Monday, May 30, 2011

On Grays

Day 8 (May 26):  Santa Fe/Tent Rocks/Roswell/Carlsbad

Map for the Day:

Woke up with sore throat.  Sh*t.

Went to Trader Joe’s but ended up at Albertson’s.  Bought wine and card.  Sort of anti-climatic after all the work we did the day before.

Visited Tent Rocks, a very odd volcanic rock formation about 45 minutes from Santa Fe.  Very much worth the visit, and a nice hike to boot.

Sore throat got worse.  Sh*t.

Started our drive:

Drove to Roswell.  Nothing there, really, but we got a picture of the UFO research museum, just for fun.  There were a ton of hotels, though, so clearly it gets busy occasionally.

Sore throat got worse.  Sh*t.

Got to Carlsbad.  Checked into cheap motel in slightly sketchy part of town.  Blagged for several hours, watched some Wakfu.

Sore throat got worse.  Sh*t.

Went to sleep.  Didn't really sleep, but unfortunately, the convenience store that we had used earlier was closed, and so I couldn't get any drugs to ameliorate the problem.  Used anime as a substitute, but with limited effect due to the crappy wireless making streaming very difficult.


On the Dry Country

Day 7 (May 25): Santa Fe, Valles Caldera

Since we were on extremely comfortable beds, and my traveling partner was still sick, we slept a bit late, and then headed to meet our host at his studio-gallery.  From there, he took us on a whirlwind tour of the best art galleries in Santa Fe – we saw some amazing pottery, leatherwork, paintings, a great deal of Native American (mostly Navajo) artwork (jewelry, beadwork, metalwork, painting, ceramics, sand-painting) and a Chuck Jones (of Looney Toons) gallery.  Although we were already looking for a bottle of wine for our hosts, after their hospitality and the amazing tour, we came to the determination that we would need to get a NICE bottle of wine for our hosts.  Thus began a fruitless search.


We had lunch at a great local Mexican place (not pictured), where their specialty was a fried-dough pocket called a Sopapilla (filled with either meat or honey/cinnamon sugar).

Failed to find a wine shop in town.

We visited the Loretto Chapel, and I dropped 3 dollars to see its famous unsupported spiral staircase – an  impressive work of artifice and innovation.  It also has a story attached to it, about the mysterious carpenter who supposedly appeared to create it after the prayers of the local nuns, and vanished without being paid for his work.  The place is mostly a tourist trap at the moment, but it's still interesting.

Failed to find a wine shop on our second pass through town.

We then visited a relative of my traveling partner, a veteran of World War II who was involved in the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, and who lives in the area with his wife.  He told us stories about his wartime experiences, and his wife shared a great deal of information about her collection of Native American artwork (particularly from one famous, now deceased potter, whose photo was on her mantle and had apparently presented her work to several presidents, including Eisenhower).

Failed to find a wine shop on our third pass through down.

After this meeting, we drove up to Valles Caldera, and briefly argued over whether or not a space this huge COULD BE the Caldera.  A road sign finally swung the vote at 2:1 in favor of it being the Caldera.  Imagine this whole space just exploding one day.  All 17-odd miles of it.  Actually, you should probably try not to imagine it.

Failed to find a wine shop on the way back to the house.  Found some good views, though.

Headed out for a late dinner, and in search of a wine shop in the hopes of showing our most generous hosts a small token of our gratitude.

Had dinner at a place called “Cowgirl” – the barbecue beef sandwich was excellent, as was the bread pudding.  My traveling partner’s Yak Burger was undercooked, but apparently pretty tasty otherwise.

Drove to a nearby Trader Joe's, which had wine.  Unfortunately, the flaw in our plan was that it was 10:30pm.  We vowed to return the next morning.


On Potholes and Petroglyphs

Day 6 (May 24):  Monument Valley / 4-Corners / Santa Fe

Our Route for the Day:

We woke up “early” (9:00am) (or rather *I* woke up early – my traveling companion was still suffering from his head cold, and so I let him sleep as long as possible), paid for our hotel room, and checked out, before on visiting the San Juan Inn’s cafĂ©, where we tried some Navajo Frybread (which was like Fried Dough, but with a slightly different consistency, served with honey).  With the sun up, we discovered that the San Juan Inn is actually set in a beautiful canyon alongside a river, and not merely a building surrounded by the pitch void that we had seen the night before when we arrived.  Who knew?

We then hit the road, only to discover that my phone hadn’t the slightest clue how to navigate this region.  For the rest of the day, we were forced to resort to looking at static petroglyphs on a non-dynamic, folding flat-screen for our directions.

Visited Monument Valley.  Words of description of the landscape are wasted:

Words of description for the road AROUND this indescribable landscape: very bumpy.  We got to test the Subaru Outback’s off-road capacities.  This probably killed a few of the brave Warhammer 40k models whose cases are strapped in the back of the car.  Their sacrifices will be remembered.

We ran into a rainstorm in the desert.

As we drove, we repeatedly saw an unknown rock formation.  It never seemed to get any closer, though.

On a whim (and because I badly needed a bathroom break), we veered briefly off our path to Santa Fe to visit Four Corners.  After snapping a few pictures and jumping from state to state to state to state until the novelty wore off (read: once), we hit the road once again.

Got in to Santa Fe around 9 pm, where we were greeted by some friends of my traveling companion who were kind enough to put us up.  We both crashed early, tired from the long drive.


Friday, May 27, 2011

On Late Arrivals

Day 5 (May 23): Meteor Crater, Hopi Country, Canyon De Chelly

We began the day a bit late, but my traveling partner was feeling much better, and I was not feeling significantly the worse.  Yet.

Our Route:

We headed off towards Second Mesa, and made an unplanned but fruitful (and much-needed, due to biological concerns) stop at Meteor Crater, which, as its name suggests, is in fact a Meteor Crater.  A very, very large meteor crater.  After taking a few photos and nearly being blown off the rim by the winds, we checked out the museum, which had a lot of information about meteors and a Subway.

We reached Second Mesa around 2:00pm, and stopped at one of the many art shops that we could not afford to patronize, what with being broke recent college grads.  The lady inside was very nice, however, and very knowledgeable about both the wares she sold and the region, and directed us to the Sipaulovi (Mosquito, named for the malarial outbreak that pushed its founders onto the mesa in the first place) village visitor center.  The village was small, but the views from the mesa were spectacular, and though the administrator of the visitor center recommended we not make the walking tour due to high winds that day, she did show us an informational video on the history of the Sun Forehead Clan (formerly the Eagle Clan) who settled in Sipaulovi.

We then took our leave for Canyon De Chelly (pronounced “De Shay”).  For about an hour, we toured around the rim of the canyon, since going inside requires a guide so that your car does not end up sinking into the muck (yes, this happens).  The canyon was a sliver of green cutting through the red rock, and is still inhabited.  Even with its relatively more verdant surroundings, apparently  Canyon De
Chelly is still very much a marginal environment like the dry lands around it, and the farming within is mostly done at a subsistence level.

We stopped at an A&W’s, which, as my traveling partner pointed out no less than four times during the meal, no longer has Corn Dog Bites.  This is a big deal, or so he says.

Sabotage or karma?  You decide:

After a bit of confusion on the way to Mexican Hat, we finally used a map, found our own asses, and got on the right road, checking in to the San Juan Inn and getting their last open room.

Then Wakfu, followed by much-needed sleep.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

On the Rim

Day 4 (May 22): The Grand Canyon

Unfortunately, my traveling partner fell rather ill that day, and so we decided to take it easy and do a short hike of the Bright Angel Trail at the Grand Canyon.  For some perspective on this, the Bright Angel Trail, the easiest trail into the canyon, is merely labeled “difficult,” while every other trail is labeled something like “more difficult,” “strenuously difficult,” or “certain death.”

We hiked for about an hour and a half (an hour down, and a half-hour back up – a reversal of what the guides said would happen, but then, I wasn’t stopping for pictures at every pile of mule droppings on the way up).  The views were spectacular, obviously.

We stopped several times to play “identify the shrub” with the plant and animal guide I had picked up at the gift shop the previous day.  Apparently there is a great deal of “Utah Serviceberry” on the trail.  We also saw a few animals, almost all rodents.

Obviously people are ignoring the signs and feeding the wildlife, because the local squirrels and chipmunks are rather fearless.  That's MY shadow in the photo.

After dragging ourselves back up Bright Angel Trail, we checked out the visitor center (which had been closed when we arrived the previous day), and learned some things we probably could have looked up online.  We took a last look at the Grand Canyon, and then departed.

We drove for an hour to the place we were staying in Williams, Arizona.  On the way, we passed a wildlife preserve called Bearizona, but unfortunately, we were both rather tapped out for the day, and decided to press on to our hotel.  When we arrived, we both crashed for a few hours.

When we finally dragged ourselves out of bed that evening, we decided hit up a local restaurant for dinner.  We found the following:

It was easily the best Mexican-Irish place I have been to, and if you’re looking for Mexican-Irish cuisine in Williams, Arizona, I would recommend Pancho McGillicuddy’s quite highly.


On Free Crap

Day 3 (May 21): Las Vegas/Hoover Dam/Grand Canyon

Woke up at 8:45, moved our stuff to the car after going to the wrong garage, and then checked out of the hotel.

We decided to look for some free Craps lessons that we had heard advertised at the Flamingo.  We did not find anyone teaching people how to play Craps, unfortunately, but we did find some sheets of paper that explained the betting and the rules.  Maybe those laminated cards were the free lessons?  What the hell is a “point,” anyway?

After our failure to learn to play Craps (which, according to the sheet, is on par with Warhammer 40k for complexity of a game using only D6’es, and is only slightly less expensive to play), we tried to round up some breakfast.  As usual, we couldn’t remember where the food courts we had used earlier were, wandered fruitlessly for a while, and then settled for the first one we found.

We departed Las Vegas in general agreement that it was a fascinating experience, that we saw a lot of amazing stuff, and that we’re probably never going to go back.  At least not for a long while, in my case, anyway, unless circumstances conspire to drop me there (again).

We drove the forty minutes or so to the Hoover Dam, first observing it from the Mike O'Callaghan - Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, a new bridge finished last year to reduce traffic across the dam itself (and also providing great views of the dam):

There we encountered a massive pack of stunt-bikers, apparently also on a cross-country tour of some kind:

And then we travelled to the the mountains on the other side.  Unfortunately, we discovered that we couldn't actually leave that way (due to the road being under construction) when our GPS informed us that there was “no available route unless we were willing to try some REALLY crazy offroad shit, man*”:

We drove for several more hours, passing through the town of Williams (where we would be staying the next night) and then entering the park.

We took a few minutes to enjoy the scenery:

And the overfed "wild"life:

Then headed for the hotel.  We grabbed a pizza dinner at one of the local cafeterias, and by the time we returned to our canyon-viewing, the sun had unfortunately fallen behind the clouds.  It was still very nice, though.
After an episode of Game of Thrones (hooray for violence!  Boo for nudity, though), we went stargazing for a few minutes.

Setting an alarm for 9:30am, we watched a few episodes of Wakfu and hit the sack.