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I don’t want to go home

Friday-Saturday, August 21-22, 2020

Leave while you’re still having fun? That’s what my mom always told me and I suppose she’s right, but I’m sad we have to check out soon.

I just took an amazing last hike/mountain climb up to a chimney-like rock formation. I hadn’t intended to. I wanted to explore the streets and casitas above us, but one on the edge of the property had a trail leading up into the wilds.

casita walk 1

It’s more difficult than it appears to get to the base of these spires of red rocks as there are manzanita bushes, cactuses and other prickly plants blocking the way, but this seemed a clear path.

chimney

It wasn’t that steep (less than 45 degrees) and my hiking sandals gripped really well, but I got nervous on the bare rock where there were sometimes natural stairs (too near cacti) and sometimes an overhang too high to get my foot onto-requiring the assistance of the branch of a dead tree to pull myself up. I kept going as I’ve been wanting to get up close to one of these things the whole trip but I kept wondering–is this going to be harder going down?

desert plants

I loved this tableau because it seemed like a perfect desert garden with the plants carefully arranged.

I made it onto a ridge and could see down into another canyon to the west, and far, far south. It was lovely. There was a flat rock outcropping on the end I should have climbed onto and done a yoga pose and selfie but I was too chicken. I was already pretty high up and seeing straight down in every direction…maybe next time!

Going down was easier. Back in the room I showered, dressed, and packed.

the room

Our room

I knew we got a great deal on this room – from the way the staff treats us (Just call and we’ll drive you anywhere. Ah the McDonell party! Welcome back! You had iced tea yesterday, can I get you one now?) and the high-quality furniture and furnishings (everything is unexpectedly heavy) and amazing grounds (I chatted with a gardener on my walk and there are 10 of them, full-time), the upscale cars in the parking lot, and the way the clientele complains to the staff about the weather (heh) I suspected we were in a place we probably couldn’t normally afford and it seems I’m right. They’d been closed for six weeks at some point due to Corona virus restrictions and were still in the process of opening up and trying to lure people back. I checked prices for a random 5 days a month from now and the cost of this room is more than double what we paid. I’d have never booked the trip because at that point I’d have had to ask myself whether I’d rather have (insert expensive thing we need repaired on our house) or a vacation and common sense would have won out.

That said, I’m sold on the concept of a mid-sized resort in the middle of nowhere in nature. It’s great to be able to hike and do nature things and then have a nice dinner and relax with a great view. I’ve been suspicious of resorts as places where people walled themselves off from the world and laid around by the pool getting drunk every day and never experiencing where they were, but this is the opposite of that. It’s all about embracing the geography.

We reluctantly checked out and hit the road and just outside Flagstaff–hit some insane weather. Thunder, lightning, and a downpour so heavy the wipers couldn’t wipe fast enough. I considered pulling over, but we had a pilot truck in front of us, driving slowly, and I was able to follow his tracks.

I know, it’s just heavy rain. Don’t make fun of me. We rarely have weather in San Francisco.

Soon after we passed through that storm and began to breathe easier, we ran into another one–this time with pea-sized hail and this time I did pull over – as did nearly every other car on the highway. I dared R. to put his hand out the window and he did and a second later screamed OW and pulled it back in. I guess that was mean of me.

It’s odd how different the trip home is from the journey out. We’d meandered along Route 66 much of the way to Sedona, stopping often to take pictures and explore. Now we flew down highway 40, trying to keep our speed under 80. I saw the motel sign near the Bagdad Café I’d photographed a few days earlier from a distance, amazed that richness and history was so close yet invisible to everyone who whizzed by driven by the pressure of time.

whizzing by everything

Alas, we were under pressure to get back. This was a one-week trip and I wanted a day to decompress before work on Monday.

Honolulu Club

Thankfully, R. did pull over in Yucca, Arizona to get a second look at this place and the trucks below

Semi trucks

Barstow. The palette-cleanser. I’d worried I’d get back to San Francisco and find it washed out and drained of color after the bright hues of Sedona but we were spending a night in Barstow first where the desert is beautiful but subdued, and the motel rooms are MUCH SMALLER than our entire house. Unlike our room at Enchantment where the bathroom is bigger than our bedroom. Not kidding.

We were a bit cranky after the hot drive and struggled to find a decent motel. I didn’t want to go back to the Best Western with the trailer park by the freeway. I know, I got high standards all of the sudden after Sedona. I just couldn’t bear it on our last night of vacation. The pool was closed and police patrolled the grounds. It was charming on day one but now not so much. We ended up in a Hampton Inn in a weird development on the side of the freeway with a big outlet mall that’s 90% dead. R. speculated Amazon killed it and I’m sure he’s right.

The room could have been okay. Half the hotel looked onto the desert, the other half, mini mall freeway. That’s what we got. They only had rooms with two queens and there was barely a foot between the beds and the wall. It was not nice.

For dinner we had our choice of fast food and chose Chili’s – which to be fair turned out to be pretty good. The downside was that their outdoor dining was in the parking lot, adjacent to a truck stop and gas station, and it was 88 degrees. Upside – they had cocktails and our waitress was AMAZING. Who you’d hire to play an old-timey waitress in a movie with all the “honey” and “dear” and “you want a double?” with a wink and eagerness to chat about anything and everything. She was in her mid-60’s and so warm and friendly. We hadn’t interacted with people much during the trip and she was definitely a people-person. Since Covid started I’ve had dreams about hugging people and she’s the kind of person that in normal times might have hugged us goodbye.

Back in the hotel room I binge-watched HGTV (we don’t have that) and fell asleep early.

Saturday I woke early-ish and went for a walk–straight out into the desert behind the hotel.

barstow desert

Barstow desert

To my surprise – ants! Anthills every 10 feet on the path and large scary ants running around doing ant things. I had to dodge them and jump over them and honestly it wasn’t the morning walk I imagined. I kept my eyes on the ground. Not that there was much else to look at but it wasn’t a casual stroll. I headed back sooner than I would have, and went for a swim.

The pool area was quite nice. A cute family was out there with an 8-year old daughter imploring her mom and dad to watch her do handstands, cannonball, etc. while her young brother tried to throw himself into the pool without supervision…I guessed he didn’t know how to swim.

Then, the driving. Bleh. We’d hoped to see the Tehachapi Loop, which is train tracks that loop around in a circle, so you can see a train passing over itself. Click on the link if you want to understand what I’m trying to say. Unfortunately we began to encounter smoke and reduced visibility from all the California wildfires that were started by lighting the day after we left town.

the first smoke

When our friends told us about the storm we were sad to miss it. We rarely see lightning in San Francisco. Then it turned out the lightning started forest fires which are still raging largely out of control, burning down houses and state parks full of ancient redwood trees and baby condors…and I won’t go on about it because it is so sad and still going on. We’d not been witness to it during vacation but as we descended into the central valley the smoke got worse and worse until the sun was an orange ball and finally completely disappeared.

central valley smoke

Smoke from the California wildfires settled in the central valley

That lopped a big part of the vacation high right off. Do we have to have a pandemic AND have the whole freaking state burn down and air we can’t breath and friends evacuated from their homes? Plus, other friends and relatives are starting home-schooling in the midst of all this and are losing their freaking minds. More than a few people said to me not in jest that they are bracing for an earthquake. Maybe a hurricane as well.

We made it home – thankfully to clear skies in San Francisco and our cute house was still standing. I didn’t care that our bedroom was smaller than the bathroom at the resort in Sedona. I slept so well! Maybe I was a little bit happy to be home.

bay bridge

The Bay Bridge

I do love cities, but Covid has taken away so much of what I enjoy about city living–shopping, having a drink at a bar, going to museums, dinner at friend’s houses–whereas nature destinations still have all their amenities. Trees and rivers and mountains are not shut down. Well, I guess technically some are because I tried to camp our way to Sedona and the campgrounds were shut. But you get my point. After months of feeling constrained and unable to access things that would recharge me I went to Sedona and hiked and saw ancient ruins and bumped my way down a natural water slide in a red rock river. I saw the milky way and deer and bunnies and hummingbirds and lizards and a wild tarantula. I had a great time and will do it again soon. It being more nature because I need some moments of more when San Francisco is offering less. Not its fault but we are in the midst of a slow-burning crisis and every day seems to produce another disappointment. It was good to get away and have a chance to literally breathe.

A beautiful sunset

A beautiful sunset based on things going horribly wrong

Butterfly, spider, river, pool.

Thursday, August 20, 2020.

I got up early again. Weird, but good, and took another hike into Boynton canyon.

thursdayboynton

Boynton canyon

On the way out I saw the butterfly again – and that same thistle it was eating out of on day one! I decided to hang out–this time in a better spot–and wait for him to return and he did! This was the shot I wanted Monday but I couldn’t get around the thistle without disturbing him.

butterfly2

Butterfly in Boynton Canyon

I also ran across a tarantula creeping across the resort lawn. I still get a shudder thinking about it but I’ve never seen a tarantula in the wild so – that’s a first. (I almost posted the picture but didn’t. Shudder.)

Next stop, Grasshopper point, another swimming area on Oak Creek. I paid the admission fee, parked. It was already over 90 degrees at 10 a.m. and I cracked all the windows. The quarter-mile path to the river was poorly marked which surprised me given this was such a popular park. I was soooo glad I didn’t force R. to come with me because the last couple hundred yards was nothing but large rocks. The whole area must be the river during the spring. It was tough going and I worried I’d stub my broken/sprained toes.

grasshopper point

Grasshopper point. There were 30+ people here but I got a miracle moment without any in the shot. The jumping spot was up to the left.

The place was way less interesting than Slide Rock. The main attraction was the depth of a 30-foot stretch of the river, which allowed people to climb the steep cliffs and jump in–or not climb and instead taunt aunt May to jump. She was a Rubenesque woman who would have caused quite a splash, but her niece’s and nephew’s catcalls failed. I was glad about that because I once jumped from a cliff into the ocean and it f*cking hurt! Every time someone hit the water all I could think was OUCH.

tree

You can see through this tree in the riverbed.

I didn’t stay long. It was our last day at the resort and I wanted some pool time. We were promised thunderstorms but they never happened, though the light was fantastic.

pool

Dark and light

 

Slide Rock State Park

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

The parking lot for this park fills up early (and the cars back up dangerously onto the highway waiting for a spot) so I headed out around 8:30 a.m. to make it in – and did. It’s a $20 per car to get in and the ranger seemed almost apologetic about this, given it was just me in the car and the others were crammed with huge families.

This used to be an apple orchard in the 1930’s and what a lovely spot to live! The trees are still there and loaded with apples and signs saying “Do not pick the fruit.” I hope it’s not all going to waste.

Apple orchard in Arizona

The apple orchard

What’s amazing about this place is the creek carved its way through a solid piece of the ubiquitous red rock, so there isn’t a typical river bed with sand and soil, just the chilly water running right over the stone.

Slide Rock State Park

Slide Rock State Park

It’s a gorgeous scene and exceeded my expectations based on photos. Even at 9:30 a.m. it was fairly crowded, with people setting up ez ups and chairs, settling in for the day. While I often try to not have people in the photos, it’d be odd not to have people shown as they were everywhere, and everyone was having such a good time it was kind of nice to be around them. It was tough to social distance because the path did get narrow at times but I didn’t linger.

Slide Rock State Park

The place seems made for people to lounge

I hiked all the way to the “end” of the park (marked with yellow caution tape from one side of the canyon to the other) and settled in a shady spot to wade and enjoy the view. My iphone got it’s first bath (yay waterproofing) when some horrible huge black fly landed on the back of my shoulder and bit me. My first instinct was to throw myself into the water. I didn’t want to touch the thing. The bite hurt like hell and even now (Friday) I’ve got a huge red mark.

Aside from that, for a while I felt there was nowhere else I wanted to be on the whole planet. I was so content and into the amazing scene and not just as an observer as I was literally in the cold river and feeling the warm wind and hearing the birds. I err on the side of being too visual but that moment it was all senses and it was great.

Slide rock state park

So beautiful

Ironically it was another sense that brought me out of the moment and got me moving. I was hungry. On the way back I did a kind of natural water slide that was fun but worked better for tiny kids than big me. I had to help myself along vs. the water pushing me down the narrow slot.

slide rock state park

Once I had cell service again (it’s really spotty around here due to all the rock) I looked up “best deli in Sedona and got R. and I sandwiches from Hilltop Deli. They checked my main boxes: amazing fresh bread and generous filling.

I spent more time at the pool, swimming and reading. The pool was closed for a bit due to lightening, and I couldn’t believe – people complained! After an hour I saw a well-dressed woman in black pants and a blouse (not the pool server uniform of tan shorts and a white shirt) head over to a group of obnoxious 20-somethings from Los Angeles. They asked for the freaking manager to control the weather. “They said the pool was going to be closed for an hour and it’s been an hour.” The woman patiently explained it’s the weather service and security who determine if it’s safe to be in the pool.

No please – you four DO go in.

We ate at the casual restaurant for dinner and relaxed on the deck afterwards.

Off-roading in cars and on feets

Tuesday, August 18, 2020, Sedona

I got up early again (odd) and had a solo breakfast outdoors at Mii Amo.

Boynton canyon

View from breakfast – looking into Boynton Canyon…until the wasp came and I ran away

I needed to fortify myself for a trip to the Honanki historic site – native American cliff dwellings and pictographs from ~1100 AD. It’s not far from here as a crow flies, but on a dirt road so it takes about 45 minutes to drive the four miles.

Off-roading in the Matrix (our car) was fun! It was just me and the occasional tourist in a dune-buggy ATV thingy they’d rented – and that did not look fun. It was 90 degrees heading to 100 and they were bouncing around with no windshield, helmets and goggles, and I get it in theory, but with all that headgear on, what could they really see and experience? Also – hot.

I missed R. not only because he is wonderful company but when he’s driving I can yell, “Stop here I need to take a picture!” and he stops and I do it. When I was driving on my own it was a bit of a pain.

4 wheeling

Based on the satellite image I hoped the site would be in shade before noon and it was. Once the bellowing tour guide and his four victims left, for a time it was just me at the site which was pretty cool. To be fair, the bellowing tour guide did say there are ruins like this all over the place, but they really publicize this one so people don’t go bushwhacking or trespass on private land.

Cliff dwelling

Cliff dwelling

worshiping the moon

I like to think the person on the left is worshiping the moon

big stick

Big Stick!

Back at the resort I got in some pool and reading time, and after it cooled down, drove a mile down the road to hike into Fay Canyon. It was a flat, mellow hike ending at a dead end of tumbled down boulders and a redundant sign saying “End of Trail.”

Fay Canyon

The end

I’ve got so many more photos of the canyon but are all these mountains starting to look the same to you?

We had another mellow meal at the resort and I fell asleep early again.

Whereupon the Vortex decides I must wake at 6 a.m.

Monday, August 17, Sedona

I am not a morning person even on work days and definitely not while on vacation. This morning at 6 a.m. the alarm in our room went off. Because – isn’t that always the case? It was pitch dark in the room and we had no idea how to work the damn thing so R. unplugged it and brought it into the bathroom and…five minutes later it went off again because of course it has a back-up battery.

At this point I’m up and figure, what the hell, I might as well hike before it gets hot. When I left the room at 6:30 it was already 74.

The Boynton canyon trailhead was supposed to be right behind the spa, but the resort kept going for another quarter mile. All “private residences” but it felt like this place was built all at once. (Seems it was – about 30 years ago.)

white flowers

Didn’t Georgia O’Keefe paint these?

I finally got to the trailhead – behind a fence and locked gate! I had to swipe my room key to get out. Very odd.

Anyhow, the trail wasn’t exactly what I expected.  It started out open, with grand vistas, then closed in. I hadn’t realized these canyons were lush. I walked along a dry creek bed under the shade of oaks and junipers and various other bushes and plants I can’t name. I saw flowers I think Georgia O’Keefe painted! I passed three birders pointing up and saying, “Did you hear that?” The birds were out in force.

Pretty red rocks

The start of the trail

Half an hour later I heard a group coming up behind me and pulled over in a wide spot so I wouldn’t have to put on my mask.

It was a guide with a nametag and hiking poles, and a man and woman, both carrying small white poodles in baby backpacks. Okay. I let them get far ahead of me as their talking was interrupting the bird song I’d been enjoying. Sadly 10 minutes later I passed them again – sitting on rocks in the creekbed as the guide led them in meditation. “Close your eyes. Feel the earth.”

I’d expected to see more of the dramatic canyon walls but they were mostly obscured by trees, even as they closed in and the canyon narrowed. I was passed by a trio of runners which seemed nuts as the trail was comprised of sandy loose soil and large round rocks. Maybe they do it every day?

I suspected the end of the trail was going to be more of the same so after 90 minutes or so I turned around, as it was beginning to heat up. I don’t know how but the poodle people managed to approach me from behind again. I guess they passed me when I was off the trail exploring.

Butterfly

I think this is the second-best photo of the trip. Not what I expected!

I couldn’t help it. “Your dog didn’t close his eyes for meditation,” I called. The man laughed. “He never does, but he still feels it.”

When I got back to the room at 9:30 am it was up to 94 degrees. We tried to go to a swimming hole – paid parking – but the lot was already full, so we instead had an early lunch. It was tough to find a place with outdoor dining in the shade but we ended up having Mexican in a nice patio.

After that we spent a few hours in the shade by hotel pool reading, then went to dinner at a casual outdoor place in the main building. I went to bed early. I’m acclimating to the heat but it’s still tiring.

bythepool

Sitting by the pool. We hoped for a thunderstorm but it didn’t happen.

A good kind of normal

Sunday August 16, 2020, Kingman to Sedona.

The Best Western proudly advertises “free breakfast” on their huge sign, and because they couldn’t have the buffet due to covid, they delivered waffles and coffee to our door. Fancy!

We left Kingman without doing any sightseeing. I might have been able to find a ruin somewhere, but I didn’t think anything could top what I found on route 66 yesterday. As we began to climb in elevation, and the landscape changed to stumpy little pine trees, widely dispersed. The clouds were lovely.

road to flagstaff

 

Historic Seligman was a good place to stop for a cold drink, however the small town was a bit silly as all 20 or so businesses went full old-timey route 66 theme–and overdid it.

seligman

Not tacky Route 66 stuff, but an adorable dog that came out to bark at me while I photographed an old hotel sign

As the elevation increased, so did the size of the pine trees until the so-called forest really was a forest.

We stopped in Flagstaff for lunch. It has a good, college-town vibe and places to eat that were written up in foodie blogs and not just Trip Advisor. I should mention that the number 4 top place for breakfast in Kingman on Trip Advisor was MacDonalds.

hotel monte vista

Hotel Monte Vista in Flagstaff

Proper Meat and Provisions made us some delicious sandwiches, the best food we’d had in days, and we walked around town afterwards. They’ve got many nice, historic buildings in the old downtown near the train depot.

Next stop – Sedona! Highway 89a started out blandly enough and then you hit this bit:

windy road

I took a time lapse but I will spare you. It made me carsick looking at it. As we descended we began to catch glimpses of the iconic tan and rust-striped mountains and exclaimed “Oh wow!” in unison every time we rounded a corner. It’s so beautiful. I snapped crappy picture after picture out the window and had to force myself to stop because – that’s where we are going. It’s not going to disappear.

Sedona

This is not an award-winning photo but when you emerge from a narrow canyon and see this? WOW.

The initial part of Sedona we drove through was much more touristy then I remembered, though still pretty tasteful. I suspect there are some pretty strict architectural guidelines around here. Besides, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the mountains that surrounded us. It was so odd to have a Safeway with breathtaking peaks above.

I did begin to get a bit nervous though, worried that there’d be a sign for our resort just past a Rite Aid, but town began to thin out and we were soon making a turn onto a more rural road, dotted with houses here and there but predominantly natural and the mountains we were headed towards were gorgeous.

driving to hotel

About a mile from our hotel…

A few minutes later we reached the resort.

A friendly staff member at a gatehouse came out to greet us, found my name on the list, and directed us to reception. The place was already 100 times better than I imagined. Single-story rust-colored groups of casitas were staggered on the hillside, blending into the landscape, and there were many trees and lovely desert-appropriate landscaping.

At reception, we stayed in our car due to covid procedures and they came out to us, greeted us by name, took my credit card and ID and we then followed a guy in a golf cart to the parking space nearest our room. He loaded all our junk onto the cart (and wow did we bring too many random bags of junk on this trip) and took us the last 100 feet to our room, unloaded, and said if we needed to be driven anywhere on the resort, just call and a golf cart will pick us up.

casitas

Our room is there at the end of the little road.

Our room is lovely and tastefully done, adobe-style white walls with curved corners, wood-beam ceiling in the living room area, fireplace we won’t use, big couch, a full-sized desk (where I’m writing now), bathroom the size of our bedroom at home with a huge soaking tub and separate shower, big balcony with comfy chairs and table.

I unpacked and then went out to explore! Our room was near the spa, and the check-in woman made a big deal about us having access to the spa and all the amenities there and how amazing it was (and we are paying an annoying $40 a day resort fee) so I figured I’d check it out. Most hotel spas I’ve visited have been way over-hyped so I wasn’t expecting much.

Right away I could tell it was going to be nice. It’s in a separate building and I got a kind of De Young museum vibe from the architecture. The woman at the front desk gave me a tour. Everything was so great, so nicely done.

adult pool

Adult pool at the spa

The icing on the cake was an adult pool! I’d been worried about being able to be socially distant from people, but this had one only had one person in it and two people reading beside it – and great views of mountains. Very safe.

The big pool was also uncrowded and had breathtaking views. I sat on a lounger to take it all in. It might be the most beautiful view from a pool I’d ever seen.

Pool

Main pool at the resort

I’ve seldom had my expectations exceeded by a hotel. Most of the time I feel I’ve been conned in pretty major ways and I have a hard time getting past that. We drove hours in a snowstorm in Iceland to get to the Ion Adventure Hotel that was supposed to be in the middle of nowhere (to view northern lights) and after white-knuckle driving hoping we didn’t go off the road, it turned out the hotel is adjacent to a geothermal plant that had a kilometer of streetlights leading up to it and all sorts of factory-type lighting on the buildings. Middle of nowhere vibe – destroyed.

We’ve rarely stayed in resorts, and those that we have were more or less simply hotels with some extra amenities and either a lot of attitude (in the smaller places) or the completely impersonal feel of a Las Vegas-style mega-resort where they try to get you processed as quickly as possible and throw down a map where they circle your room, the gym, the pools, and tell you check is at 11 a.m. and there will be a fee if you check out late.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been to a place that got it right–to my specific taste. The property is understated and natural and the staff are friendly and professional and don’t give off a vibe of wishing they were somewhere else. Granted we just came from two nights at Best Westerns – and no offense to them – the people did their jobs proficiently but also had a look in their eye that said everyone who walks up to this desk is going to annoy me.

In the evening R. and I went for a swim in the adult pool and had a sunset dinner outdoors and the food was amazing. Maybe because we’ve been eating taco bell for two days but I don’t think so.

We came back to our room and had drinks out on the balcony and I rambled on about the formula for happiness and R. did a time lapse of the stars which came out amazing!!

I might not always be drawn to a super quiet resort, but after a tense spring in an urban environment due to the pandemic, I really needed some calm that wasn’t a sign of distress–but perfectly normal–if that makes sense. “Quiet” San Francisco is creepy. Quietly sitting on the deck here and watching the sun set is not. Empty roads in the city are wrong. Empty highways here are how things are.

nature

I’m so glad we did this.

122 degrees

Saturday Aug. 15th. Barstow to Kingman, Arizona

Saturday morning we lugged all our stuff out of the second story room and down the stairs at the Best Western (R. complained about my choice but I didn’t want headlights beaming directly into our room–this is a motel) and went looking for breakfast. When we arrived last night Barstow looked bigger than I remembered but this morning…it might have grown at one point but now its contracting. Half the stores on Main Street were boarded up and there was nowhere to go for breakfast. We ended up getting Taco Bell drive-through and eating it in the parking lot of a closed-down mall–the only place we could find shade.

barstow house

After that we drove around neighborhoods. More places boarded up.

Photo of burned houses

For Sale by Owner, Barstow

We found a train museum at the Amtrak station. I love trains but it was already over 100 degrees and I wasn’t acclimated yet. I felt a bit dizzy and went back to sit in the car.

From here we drove to nearby Calico, a so-called ghost town.

old billboard

Old billboard on the way to Calico

R. was kind enough not to burst my bubble in advance, as the setting was lovely but it was 100% a tourist attraction and every building in the town was a shop. Apparently this place was an actual ghost town and the inspiration for Knott’s Berry Farm in southern California. Walter Knott bought the town, restored it, and eventually donated it to San Bernadino.

Calico "ghost town"

Calico “ghost town”

I’m glad the place was saved so you can picture what life must have been like there, but it’s a fisherman’s wharf equivalent and quite tacky.

cool rocks calico

Cool rocks in Calico

I’m sure I would have liked it better if I’d been able to really explore the place but it was just too hot. We stopped into the “general store” to get some cold drinks and a bag of ice and of course the six-person family that doesn’t wear masks was in there, the 10-year old son literally touching every soda in fridge to read the label and I wanted to smack him.

We drove to check out the Calico cemetery but it had a new sign and was mostly neat piles of rocks and no headstones so I wasn’t buying it.

Distant thunderstorm as seen from Calico cemetery

Distant thunderstorm as seen from Calico cemetery

On the way out I convinced R. to drive up a dirt road to Mule Canyon. He got squeamish about half a mile in because the road was quite rough and we didn’t have an SUV so we turned around.

Mule canyon

Mule canyon

I’d planned to hike out to the Kelso dunes but it was 110 and rising so I had to admit this was not going to happen. Just as well because there wouldn’t have been time to do it all and I wanted to travel old route 66 to Amboy. I had fond memories of taking this route in the past and was eager to see the sights again–especially with the amazing weather we were having. Huge clouds, random thunderstorms, dramatic dark and bright lighting–it was a dream day for photographer me.

There was so much desert-y goodness I’m just going to post the pictures.

motel sign

Old motel sign on Route 66

I’d have taken so many more but it was SO HOT. The hottest temperatures I’ve even experienced: 122 degrees Fahrenheit. It felt like the air was burning me. I couldn’t see my phone very well in the bright light and it did weird things like take pictures upside down. R.’s phone kept shutting down completely. I’ll have to come back in the winter because there was so much good material I couldn’t stick around to capture due to me being about to pass out.

Gas pump on Route 66

Gas pump on Route 66

Also I’d traversed about six sets of heavily-used railroad tracks to get to some of the attractive ruins and R. was sure a mile-long freight train was going to come by and I’d be trapped away from the car and overheat.

Old house on Route 66

Old house on Route 66

I really lucked out with the lighting today. It was just after noon for some of the prime ruins and the sun came and went so if I could wait a moment I’d get bright sun or diffused light.

Old house on Route 66

Old house on Route 66

View inside an abandoned house on Route 66

View inside an abandoned house on Route 66

Abandoned house, Route 66

View inside the house above, but closer

I was disappointed by Amboy present vs. the Amboy of my memory. We’d approached from the south last time, through the Mojave preserve, and after miles and miles of nothing the little town looked like an amazing time capsule had fallen from the sky. Now that they are restoring it, it feels, uh, I dunno. Maybe it’s not Amboy, it’s me. It’s all about perspective.

Roy's motel and cafe, Route 66

Roy’s motel and cafe, Route 66

By this point the car was pretty hot so we had to turn off the air conditioner. It was 122 degrees still, but having the windows open did feel refreshing – kind of? I really didn’t want the car to overheat. Route 66 east of Amboy was closed for repair (????) so we had to take a small road back to 40 and that was when the needle really inched towards the big H. If I hadn’t been driving I could’ve just enjoyed the scenery but I was, so I was stressed.

Aannnddd…we made it. Granted it was a false sense of relief because we were then on a main highway – that was exactly the same temperature! Woo hoo! Fortunately after about 10 minutes we crested a grade (2500 feet) and descended and the car cooled and air conditioning worked again.

We’d been in the car all day and I was ready to call it quits for the night, however the next town was Needles and…sadly no. I had high hopes because it was on the Colorado river and surely there must be a nice hotel on the river there? No.

This is that moment in a road trip when you realize it’s 5pm and you’ve only eaten one meal and you are starving and have to pee and it’s still 110 degrees and ARRGHHH!!!

I pulled into the shade of a gas station/convenience store and went in to get nuts, iced tea, go to the bathroom, and ask the wizened, rotted-teeth, super-friendly, mask-less cashier if there was a hotel on the river in town. She had to think hard. She gave a lot of options that were only 20 miles away. None in Needles.

En route to Kingman

En route to Kingman

We continued on to Kingman, getting drenched in a pretty heavy storm on the way. What I love about the desert is the endless vistas. As I told R., if we were in a forest all this would still be here but what could we see? Nothing. Not to bash forests. I do love forests. But they often block the vistas.

The rocks changed dramatically as we approached Kingman.

different mountains

Mountains near Kingman

The top-rated lodging was a Best Western, so here we area again. Thankfully, there’s a decent Mexican restaurant next door so we got food to go. I’ve been aching to swim and this place has a small pool, so after dinner when most people left I was able to go in. It would have been hard to socially distance earlier with all the kids.

The chill pool vibe I’d hoped for was not to be had. A lively group of tattooed white people played metal and country music out of a big speaker they’d brought to the pool and recounted conversations they’d had with other people and what they thought of those conversations and those people and every other word was fuck. I try not to swear to much in this blog but there is no getting around this fact. And there were still a few kids around that weren’t theirs so that wasn’t cool. They clearly weren’t the kind of people who gave a @#&! about anyone else.

All in all this was a great day and all the road trip things I wanted to happen are happening. The trippiest thing is that I texted my neighbor to have her water my yard (San Francisco is having an unusual heatwave as well) and I realized I’d only been gone SINCE YESTERDAY. All this stuff has happened in just a little over 24 hours! Insert picture of my mind exploding. : )

 

 

You’re getting hotter…

Friday August 14, 2020, San Francisco to Barstow.

Why am I in the desert in August? I need a vacation and a big change of scene. I’m in a creative rut. My brain is slowing thanks to working alone day after day. I want to get as far as I can from “normal” life but don’t want to fly. I want a legit, reset my mind kind of experience. I want to see things I’ve never seen before. Also, everything local I wanted to do was booked. (Yosemite).

Map

The trip started off dull. South on 101, across the San Mateo bridge, then 580 east where we hit heavy traffic and finally onto tedious interstate 5.

windmills

For those of you not familiar with the road, it runs through the central valley farmland, two lanes in either direction, no views to speak of, scents of manure and fertilizer, countless semi trucks plodding along in the slow lane and locals in pickup trucks who will ride your ass if you aren’t going 90.

interstate 5 highway

I love road trips in theory but today I just wanted to “be there” wherever there was. I’ve lost my stamina for hours of driving in the past months. I was tired and bored.

Nothing exciting happened. We got crappy burritos at a Baja Fresh inside a gas station. We listened to music and podcasts. Because of the traffic we ended up driving in the dark which I disliked because that’s when the better scenery started.

But, eh, so what. We made it to Barstow! The town seems so much bigger than I remember it based on all the city lights. The Best Western I booked looked kind of cute online, but it turned out to be a pretty standard motel, POOL CLOSED, and they neglected to mention they share the property with a trailer park–which actually was the first thing that really made me smile today. The office for the trailer park is really cute and I do love the whole motel experience. I was enjoying some outdoor time, watching the semi trucks pass by and enjoying the night until the couple two doors down came out to smoke and argue.

We went to get some liquor at the liquor store across the freeway and it was cheerful and sketchy and run down all at once. Such a great font on the handmade signs.

barstow liquor store

I’m calling it a day and look forward to seeing where I am tomorrow (since we arrived in the dark.)

One night on the Russian River

Guerneville, July 6, 2020

We had a reason to celebrate, so we rented a weird cabin that was charming inside but on the side of a busy road. It was a Monday night so we figured, eh, it’ll be quiet. It was not. It was a racetrack.

In case you all are reading this in the future, know that right now in pandemic times everyone is dreaming of renting a house somewhere, wiping down every surface with disinfectant, then relaxing and enjoying some nature time without having to interact with other humans. Because of this, if you search “vacation home” “pool” “waterfront” “riverfront” “oceanfront” “lakefront” “California” you will get ZERO results. I’m serious. It’s insane.

Because of this you end up with “river access” which means crossing a busy highway, walking down a steep deer trail, and ending up on a muddy ledge above the Russian River in a place you clearly couldn’t get in or out of the water.

Bitching and moaning aside, it was still nice to get away, and I discovered a “beach” (no sand just big dirty rocks) a half a mile away with car parking and a deep swimming hole. A band was filming a low-budget music video at the end of a spit of land (the most scenic spot) and as charming as that was, I wanted to float out on my inflatable pretzel to the big, wide, lake-like space beyond but I didn’t because I felt bad for ruining their shot.

guerneville

Was it nice to swim and see beautiful nature? Do we take what we can get these days? Yes, so I didn’t give the house the review it deserved. (Don’t rent that house.)

Forbidden Falls

Big Sur, June 21st, 2020

I got up and out early for one last hike. On the valley view hike I took Friday, I noticed the trail forked and I thought I heard the distant sound of water. The official trail to Pfeiffer falls (which my parents hiked the day after they were married) has been closed since 2008 !!!!!! due to damage from a fire. I had my predator stick and was determined to explore.

Ironically, people a few cabins away (very few cabins were occupied) set out just ahead of me and turned onto the valley view trail. It’s narrow in places and I wanted to give them space for “couple time” and not be hot on their heels, so I sat on a redwood stump and enjoyed the stream and the redwood calm. Unfortunately they seemed to have done the same thing and as soon as I started back I caught up to them again. We were the only people on the trail and it was kind of annoying, as the trail is all uphill and I wasn’t going to run and pass them. I kept pausing to take photos and finally they vanished from sight.

To my great surprise – this appeared sometime between Friday and Sunday.

blockedtrail

Okay, I am a rule follower for the most part and the official trail to Pfeiffer falls said trail closed, do not enter, etc. so I didn’t go on it. This however merely said “caution” and not, “do not enter,” so I agreed to be cautious and crawled over the barrier.

The trail was lovely and well-maintained. Absolutely nothing wrong. When I got down to the creek the sound of falling water was louder. Yes, the two bridges were blocked by more barriers, but they were perfectly sound and only a few feet above two small creeks. Still, I was getting a little worried that I was going to be yelled at by a park ranger. I could see a pile of rocks and a metal equipment locker…but it was Sunday and who works on a Sunday?

I crept forward quietly, which is pretty easy to do on a carpet of fallen redwood needles? Leaves? I don’t what to call them. From the second bridge – there they were! The falls! Smaller than I expected, and they slid down rock more than fell – but still very charming. People on the internet mentioned a swimming hole, but the pool at the base of the falls was fairly shallow and filled with fallen trees.

waterfall

I’m not sure why, in normal times, they wouldn’t let people use this alternative route to the falls, but during pandemic times I get why they’d block it off. The trail is steep and narrow on the side of a hill. There’d be no way to pass people and leave 6 feet of social distance.

I’d already packed up so when I got back to the cabin we left. We planned to have lunch Carmel which would have been totally reasonable time-wise (neither of us had eaten breakfast), but I wanted to do a quick stop at Andrew Molero state park, because we had a free pass thanks to the Big Sur Lodge.

Unfortunately it ended up being a bit of a death march. I had no reason to expect the beach would be so far from the parking lot. Families with little children were heading out carrying chairs and coolers. To be fair it was probably only a mile but R. had his city shoes on and I kept thinking the beach would be right around the next bend. Why I didn’t realize – we had zero cell service and no way to check.

andrewmolero

We finally made it to the beach and it was fine. Lots of cool driftwood…but it was windy and freezing. I sat and tried to enjoy the view but my face was getting sandblasted. After 5 minutes we were both done.

By the time we made it back to the car we were famished and in my case at least, kind of done with sightseeing. The amount of tourists and traffic was ten times what it had been on Thursday when we drove down. Every turnout at a place of beauty was mobbed and people were being stupid and annoying…wandering across highway 1 like they were on a quiet back road, doing three point turns, parking with half the car on the road. It was a nice clear day – what I’d wanted on Thursday, but totally ruined by people.

We grabbed a quick lunch in Carmel and made our way to 101 instead of driving back on the coast.

All in all it was a great trip. Not the coastal/beach getaway I’d imagined, but redwoods and rivers. Just as beautiful and I’m grateful to have had so much of it to myself for a few days. I miss my friends and family so much during this time, but I don’t miss crowds and traffic.