That’s a really big hole…and other misconceptions
We spent the night in Kingman Arizona and we arrived at the hotel well after dark. We didn’t have a reservation and there was a Rod Run and a biker rally in town so all they had left was suites…yes please! So…it was a huge surprise to wake up and see that we were surrounded by gorgeous mountains. That was actually a theme through most of the trip.
I’d printed a 26 page itinerary so I KNEW we had a 2 hour drive to the Grand Canyon. That estimated time Google maps gives you…is just that…an estimation. Always add at least two hours. Even if you’re going across town…add two hours! That way you can stop and shop and if your husband asks why you’re late you can roll your eyes and say “Google…pfft!’ and he’ll think it’s their fault.
We turned off of I40 around 1 and stopped at the one and only gas station/tourist trap around 130. Candice and I have this running joke about souvenirs…we were at a rest stop near Wichita Falls Texas one time and they had ‘genuine’ plastic deer hide dream catchers hand painted with the Mona Lisa, and resin rattlesnakes. I’m always telling her I’ll get her a resin snake as a souvenir when I travel…and this place had them! Yah…genuine plastic rattlesnakes in all kinds of poses and holding all kinds of useful stuff like clocks and cups and forks!
I didn’t actually buy one but I did take a picture of it and tried to text it to her. It was around this time that we discovered we had no cell phone service. We also discovered entering the canyon cost $30 per vehicle. So we ditched my bus and I rode up with Jim…frantically trying to call Candice the whole way. When we got to the gate the older woman working it panicked…she assumed we were part of a tour group that hadn’t bothered to let them know they were coming. She was so happy when she found out it was just two tiny people driving that big ass empty bus that she let us in for free!
Jim had never seen the Grand Canyon but I had so I was really anxious to see his reaction. If you’ve never been there you should know…it’s essentially a hole in the ground with trees and shrubs lining the rim so you can stand 20 feet away and not know it’s there.
He was impressed.
Jim – It’s so much bigger than I expected it to be
Me – Yah…I heard they took that into consideration when they named it
Jim – Funny
Me – seriously! These Indians initially found it. They were just out riding one day and boom! They almost fell in.
Indian 1 – wow…that’s a really big canyon!
Indian 2 says – We could make some serious money off this thing.
Indian 3 – what’s money?
Indian 1 – what should we call it?
Indian 2 – let’s call it the ‘Big Canyon!’
Indian 1 – I don’t think that really conveys just how big it is
Indian 3 – what about the Majestic Canyon!’
Indian 1 – it’s too pretentious. People hate that.
Indian 2 – how about…the ‘Grand Canyon?’
Indian 1 – …right there The Grand Canyon! I like it
Indian 3 – The Majestic Canyon is pretentious but the Grand Canyon is perfect????
Indian 2 – Don’t be bitter man.
Indian 3 – Whatever dude. I’m gonna get a falafel and work on my ideas for the gift shop.
And that…is how the Grand Canyon got its name.
We walked the rim for about an hour and loved every second. It was kind of overcast when we started walking but the clouds burned off and it got sunny and you could see all of the striations in the rock and all of the amazing colors. We also saw a cave in the rock about halfway down the opposite side and a crazy Japanese tourist wearing way too little clothing. She scaled a fence, walked out onto a rock and posed for photos for like half an hour!
I could hear panting and wheezing behind me so I turned and asked this older man if he was ok. He was kind of heavy and sweating so I assumed he was having a heart attack and my first thought was…not one damn cell phone up here works…how are we gonna call 911. But…it turns out he was just having a panic attack watching her prance around the edge all care free like she couldn’t fall down a billion feet to her death.
The park is full of elk…I don’t remember there being elk in 87. And these are tame-ish elk. They’re so accustomed to there being billions of people walking around that they don’t really mind. We passed two between the rim and the parking lot then saw dozens of them grazing on leaves as we drove out.
I’ve been to a lot of touristy areas. Usually every inch of land is considered prime real estate right up to whatever big thing people have come to see. So it’s kind of surprising that the 60 miles between I40 and the park is a barren wasteland. (Yah…another one). There’s desert and scrub brush everywhere and every 10-15 minutes you’ll see an RV or mobile home anchored to the sand with a small fence and 5-6 sheep or cows or something. About 15 miles North of I40 there’s a rundown building on the left that use to be a business but it’s been abandoned. 30 minutes from the interstate is the gas station we stopped at with a motel and a diner that’s closed til summer. And that’s it…nothing but land and trees for nearly 60 miles. They must have one hell of a zoning board and some seriously intense zoning ordinances to keep the commercial developers out of there.
When we stopped to get my bus I went in to ask about food…the diner was obviously closed and we hadn’t eaten since the ‘Free Continental Breakfast” at 8am. The cashier told us there was a town, Williams, on the other side of I40 with ‘all of the fast food chains’. He assured me we could find a hamburger there. There are NO burgers in Williams! None. In fact…Williams is two streets…each of them a one-way street…and no place to eat. So we headed to Flagstaff…where we found an ice storm.
I always assume Arizona and New Mexico are hot. It’s the desert! But it turns out…they’re not always hot. Sometimes, they have ice and snow in May! Just as we’re getting into Flagstaff and rush hour traffic an ice storm hits us. So we find the first place we can and pull off to eat…steak! Our poor bellies were so accustomed to gummy savers and soda with the occasional fast food thrown in they didn’t know how to react to vegetables and substance. We used dinner to regroup and set a new destination…Gallup!
We were supposed to go to the Painted Desert, the petrified Forrest and end the day in Albuquerque. I learned to spell ‘Albuquerque’ just so I could add it to the itinerary…but we didn’t make it that far. It was dark, we were tired, and we were at least 3 hours behind schedule so Gallup sounded like a good place to stop. It actually sounded like a podunk little run down country town with more horses than humans but I was too tired to argue with Jim.
Milagro – New Mexican for ‘use to be two gas stations…now only one’
I don’t have a lot to say about day three. Our plan was to get to Oklahoma City as quickly as possible but we knew we were still three hours off track and it was going to be a long day of driving. And it was!
Our hotel was in a complex with some tourist shops and a gas station. We stopped for gas before we left and there was a Native American wandering the parking lot asking for money. I went in to pay and the cashier was telling both of the Native American women in line in front of me that she couldn’t sell them alcohol because she could tell they were drunk. It wasn’t even 9am! And we saw these signs all over New Mexico…no where else…just New Mexico.
That was one of the worst moments of the trip. I always assume that a lot of stereotypes are based on a few select instances that get blown out of proportion. I didn’t want to believe the cliché of Indians being alcoholics. But the cashier, who was also Indian, said she deals with it all day every day. It’s an incredibly sad legacy for a culture that was so rich and so proud.
I have to say…the views on day three were the best.
We drove through 500 miles of flatland and I wanted to stop every quarter-mile and take photos. I’ve spent the last 30 years on the east coast so I’d completely forgotten what it was like to look out and see the land stretch so far off into the distance that it meets the sky. As we drove east the steep cliffs dwindled away and suddenly you could see forever. Exactly 160 miles west of Oklahoma City you start to see a spattering of trees. Within 20 minutes of that you’re surrounded on all sides by a perfectly green wall…and it stays that way until you hit the Atlantic Ocean. I love the east coast…but I could spend eternity staring at the views in Arizona and New Mexico.
About every 50 miles or so there were remnants of an old tourist attraction or souvenir shack. They were all old and deserted. There’s amazingly very little business on that stretch of I40. Each time we stopped I’d tell Jim to start looking for a bathroom in about 40 minutes because I know it could take another 40 minutes for him to find an exit with existing businesses.
We had walkie talkies to communicate on the road and we had code names for each other. But you should know…you put a walkie-talkie in the hand of an otherwise sane person…and they lose their mind. I had two distinct personalities; Saucy Flossy…which is who the bus is named after…was a trash talking country girl…
Jim: What’s up Buttercup?
Me: I gotta pee honeybee!
…and Audacious Lizzie Funk was ghettolicious.
Jim: You need a pee break?
Me: why you gotta be up in my koolaid when you don’t even know what flavor it be????
If I was tired/bored/rushed my alter egos would just kind of swirl together into one confusing blend of countrrfied ghettoness and you never knew what was gonna come out.
Around mid-day we stopped in Milagro New Mexico. There was an abandoned Exxon on the south side of the highway and a no-name station on the north side. I had to pee (it’s a well documented fact that I have a bladder roughly half the size of a goldfish bladder) so I went in expecting it to be pretty awesome. It had survived when Exxon hadn’t and it was the only place to stop for about 80 miles! They had 4 bags of funyons, 9 sodas and a box of Epsom salt. That was it.
Hipsters, corruption and moth man…but definitely not Sasquatch
We woke up in Moore Oklahoma. This is significant for several reasons: we use to live there. In fact we lived there for four years before we moved to NC. Which means we knew our way around…and I knew where the boutiques were that I wanted to shop. It also meant we knew where the Laundromat was and I needed clean knickers. And most importantly…we were less than a mile from both…Taco Mayo and Freddy’s. Freddy’s has the creamiest dreamiest ice cream on the whole planet!
We left my bus at the motel and headed out in search of shopping utopia. Both boutiques were on Pennsylvania Ave. so I held on for dear life as Jim attempted to whip the Beast around the 240 like it was a Porsche. (Kinda glad I had my own bus for 9 days!)
But…both stores were gone! Yah, they closed up and never looked back. I immediately started sending emergency shopping texts to my girls and got some scattered suggestions…I think they moved…Look by Hobby Lobby…you liked THAT store? So we went back to Moore and noshed on Taco Mayo. (Jim was in such a hurry to reach OKC he had neglected to feed me dinner the night before)
Then we did two quick loads of laundry while I reminisced about the photo shoot I’d done there with Haeley SIX years earlier. In fact…everywhere I looked in Moore was a happy memory. I spent four years building up a photography business and had done photo shoots everywhere or the girls and I had done something fun everywhere I looked.
But it was also sad. In May of 2013…3 years after we left…an F5 tornado ripped through Moore destroying everything it touched. Friends sent photos for weeks after showing us the destruction. The path of the tornado took it one street over from our old house and destroyed 90% of the neighborhood. So we were totally shocked to discover there were no visible signs of the disaster.
Which sounds great…except it made me think of Hope Mills. I spent 18 months toiling in local politics trying to affect some kind of positive change and finally walked away…disgusted and questioning everything I believed in. I realized how much we’d taken Moore for granted while we lived there…it’s not only a beautiful community it’s also a strong community with an equally strong local government who stepped in and worked tirelessly to rebuild. Within hours of the tornado they had established social media accounts to disperse information and deployed extra security to keep looters from pilfering from the damaged homes.
But more importantly…less than three years after this took place…you can’t even tell. The only visible sign is the local hospital. The exterior is complete but while the interior is finished they operate out of portable buildings in the parking lot. That’s it! The debris is gone, the homes rebuilt, the sun was shining and the whole thing was a beacon flashing in my face with one singular message…Hope Mills could not have survived this. Much less flourished!
If an F5 had destroyed part of this town 3 years ago…we’d still be sifting debris while the elected officials argued over who had stolen the relief funds and whether or not they should say something to that person. God forbid they appear ugly and accusatory…it’s not the southern way.
We got to Idabel around 7 to meet with Jim’s Aunt Melody and Uncle Russ. Melody and Russ come with a lot of ‘est’. They’re the nicest people you could ever meet, with the cutest dog you could ever try to steal (I tried but they wouldn’t leave me alone with them long enough to squeeze them into my bag) they make the best BBQ sauce in the world and live in the smallest town ever.
Idabel isn’t really the smallest town, but it is small. The first time I visited them in 1998 they didn’t have ATM’s in town. Now they do…they’ve come a long way. They took us to Jake’s for dinner and I will admit I was biased. I assumed Jake’s would be a tiny little run down diner with a limited menu and too much grease in the food.
I will never judge a town by its size again. Jake’s was phenomenal! It’s down a side street next to an outdoor amphitheater and it’s cool! It’s like downtown Las Angeles cool. The décor is a mix of industrial and antiques from the local area, the staff is super friendly (they have to be everyone knows everyone…or knows their momma) and the food is amazing! We rarely have a meal so good we remember it and talk about it for years to come…in fact that’s only happened once before. But Jake’s was that good!
And the conversation was good. Melody & Russ are just the kind of people you feel at ease with. They’re funny and affectionate and there’s no guile. They’re totally genuine and warm and if it weren’t for their frustratingly close watch on those dogs…I would declare them perfect. We really do love spending time with them and wished they lived closer…but I suspect Melody would never move an inch farther away from her grandson…and that’s ok. He can have her…for now. Thank you Melody & Russ and Erik for a lovely evening!
Oklahoma was supposed to be a reboot for the trip…an opportunity to relax a bit and get back on schedule. We succeeded with the relaxation part…too much. We were two hours behind schedule when we left Idabel and headed to Shreveport. Which is why I’m gonna cut Jim some slack and claim he was suffering from a full belly and exhaustion when the walkie-talkie squawked and he said he was pretty sure Sasquatch had just thrown a bat from a tree into his grill.
I partially blame the Discovery Channel for what happened that night. He’s watched a billion documentaries on Big Foot and he knows that section of Oklahoma is a hotbed of activity and sightings. However…that doesn’t explain why he thinks Mothman flew over his bus. We were on a small winding road in the dark at 10pm. No houses, no lights, just creepy darkness and trees and wind. I’m pretty sure he saw an owl…I didn’t see it. I was trying to get a signal on my cell so I could check in with the girls. But just to be safe I’ve banned him from watching the Discovery Channel anymore.
It took over 2 hours to get to Shreveport that night, but it was one of the funnest nights we had driving. We crossed into Arkansas fairly quickly, and I learned that ALL of Arkansas smells like chicken poop. I could barely pick up any radio stations and when I could there was nothing good to listen to. But at one point we were doing 70 mph down a dark twisty road with the smell of chicken poop drifting in the windows and the sound of Oh Sheila ricocheting off the walls of the empty bus and I thought…we’re having fun! We could be at home watching reruns and wishing we lived a life full of adventure…but instead we’re off having an adventure.
(Next up…More fun in the Crescent City)