Happy Monday everyone!
I decided late last week that since we’d be getting home over the weekend (and I had a 2000 word essay to write) I would delay the final road trip blog post until after we finished. And thus, we arrived back into Lawton yesterday afternoon with 9100 miles total on the car (14,560 km: a third of the way around the earth!), a crack in our damn windscreen (more on that later) and a huge sense of relief because there’ll be no more driving for a while.
On to the recap then, and a quick warning that we’ve crammed a lot into the past 10 days: be prepared for a hefty one!
We had a wonderful visit to Bryce Canyon the Friday before last, having stopped off to visit on our way to overnight in Cedar City (bit of a rough start to it all: we tried three different places for breakfast before we found one that was open). Bryce Canyon is one of Utah’s many lovely national parks, and for our visit it showcased a beautiful juxtaposition of the fading winter and the incumbent spring, with pristine white patches of snow persisting in the shade, and large solid swathes of ice on the dirt footpath. We went for a short, easy hike (at least it was easy on the way down into the canyon, a little less on the way back up) and navigated the challenging morass of mid-morning mud, complete with free-running rivulets of water where the ice had begun to melt. Without really thinking about my choice, I’d worn my runners and ended up with mud caked on both them and the hem of my jeans. Unlike James’s sweet runners, mine also don’t have great grip, but I’ll openly admit that my footwear was not to blame for my taking a tumble: I foolishly followed James’s lead off the beaten track and ended up sliding down a strip of loose rocks, scratching my elbow, tearing my jeans and luckily not damaging my camera. Fortunately, I was relatively unharmed, and once my good humour was restored, we went meandering along some of the trails and indiscriminately taking photos (I’m an artistic work in progress).
We then headed off for Cedar City. To add a little spice to our life, we were almost run off the road by someone overtaking in the opposite direction, and only James’s driving skill saved us from what could have been a rather grisly fate. I was napping, so it was a bit of a rude awakening, but it meant that I got to rack up the dead deer count to twelve and also see some wolf corpses on the side of the road… So I guess it could be work. We pulled into Cedar City later that afternoon and checked into the hotel before capitalising on the date to go and see Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast. Full disclosure: I thought it was absolutely fabulous, and by the time we left the theatre, I was ready to turn around and see it all over again.
Day 36 saw us say farewell to Cedar City and head to Zion National Park—heartily recommended by my cousin, and also apparently a local ‘must-see’ between Cedar City and Vegas—for some sightseeing and hiking. James had chanced upon a Facebook video showing a perilous and intense hike called Angel’s Landing (check out this random YouTube video of it that I found), and we decided to take the risk that we, too, would join the seven other people who have died climbing it in the last 14 years. I was originally wearing jeans, and decided at the last moment that shorts and hiking boots might be a better option: wow, am I glad I did that! In comparison to Bryce the day before, Zion was hot, and we did a lot of climbing. It was wonderful [Disclaimer: it was also a lot of work, and I made James take a lot of rests], but it was busy. It’s not hard when travelling to forget about what day of the week it is, and hiking on a Saturday really took us by surprise in terms of the number of other people who had had a similarly good idea.
One of the big downsides of that, and something that blew my mind a little was people wearing backpacks who had put their speaker in it so that they could blare music into the surrounding area while hiking. I mean, I get it: I like to listen to music too, but I wouldn’t enforce that on everyone else around me just because I wanted to get some tunes in. It’s an aspect of the concept of American ‘freedom’ that I find incredibly inane and frustrating: a lack of consideration for the fact that one individual expressing their freedoms might be rudely impinging upon the freedoms of numerous others.
The first half of the climb was relatively simple: just a sloping path cut into the mountain, and a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. The second part, onto Angel’s Landing itself, was a little more complex. It involved a narrow path, allowing a single person to traverse it, with a steep drop to either side and chain barriers installed at strategic points for reassurance and some extra handholds. The nature of the path meant that people had to pause in order to allow people coming from the other direction to pass; luckily, most people were relatively polite and for the most part, it flowed smoothly and safely. Of course, there were also a few people who just couldn’t handle having to wait for a few more people, and had to endanger everyone involved by pushing through, but otherwise, it was a lot of fun.
Once we got to the end, the view was phenomenal. Some asshat had decided to spit their gum out on the ground along the path, which really grinds my gears: it’s something I absolutely abhor. It makes me furious that some people apparently don’t care at all about respecting and protecting the amazing space we’re lucky to tramp through. That, and other instances of rudeness/self-absorption aside, it was an incredible experience. And clearly we weren’t the only ones to think so, since while we were sitting at the top drinking in the brilliant sights available below us, someone nearby proposed to his girlfriend. Cue cheers and general joyousness. We stopped for a late lunch in the nearby village after we finished up, then motored on down to Las Vegas. The scenery through Arizona on this drive is vast and brilliant, huge mountains that leave you feeling dwarfed as you pass amongst them. Seeing the incredible variety of terrain and environment in the USA has probably been one of the greatest parts of this trip: it’s made me keen to see more of Australia when we’re home again, to discover the beautiful parts we’re yet to visit.
After all of this then, Las Vegas loomed before us like another world, a massive sprawling metropolis of money and lights in the middle of the desert. The flashing neon signs everywhere aren’t the invention of Hollywood, nor are they exaggerated at all: they are ridiculously pervasive and almost painful to look upon. As a non-gambler who doesn’t particularly like crowds (and with most of my partying way bled out of me in my late teens), it wouldn’t be unfair to say that there is little about Vegas that calls to me. Luckily for us, James’s friend who is posted in Vegas was heading out on the work trip on Sunday morning (to Hawaii… Tough life) but was free after we got in, and we headed over for some drinks and a city view from his high-rise apartment.
We spent Sunday wandering somewhat aimlessly around the Las Vegas strip and confirming our own suspicions that we probably won’t be coming back to Vegas again any time soon… Though there was a very large chocolate fountain—the largest in the world, apparently—at Jean Phillipe Patisserie. And we took some photos in front of the Bellagio fountains: of course!
Yet, even with all that thrilling business taken into account, we weren’t sad to farewell Las Vegas on Monday morning, especially with the prospect of what lay ahead of us.
Hoover Dam was really quite an educational experience for me, as prior to our visit I knew very little about the project itself, its purpose, or the construction process: so I really enjoyed learning about it! There were also lots of signs for mountain goats… But we didn’t see any. Disappointing. Mountain goat-less, but full of some cheap lunch, we headed to the Grand Canyon, and found it absolutely packed—the problem with Spring Break holidaying—but got set up in our little spot before darkness fell and had time to go and check out the view from the South Rim. Plus, it was a great chance to test out our badass new tent. I was relieved we’d brought the air mattress pump, but didn’t check it before we passed out and was less than impressed to awake at 2:30am feeling like I was out to sea because the mattress didn’t have enough air in it. We also experimented with using socks to mop up thermos spillage (clean socks advised: that was probably our biggest lesson. Also, don’t overfill the thermos to begin with).
We had the best possible intentions to watch the sunrise in the canyon on Tuesday, but mistimed our approach a little, and underestimated the distance we’d have to walk. Considering the number of people heading in the opposite direction to us, it would see that we inadvertently had a win, because it was much quieter when we got there, and still beautiful. We’re keen to go back again next year and actually hike down into the canyon and back out again over a long weekend… Takers?
Considering how well we’d done so far on this trip, perhaps we were overdue for a bit of disaster. We were driving from the Grand Canyon to Scottsdale behind some guy with a trailer, who had some small pieces of wood unsecured in the back. We didn’t realise when the first piece came out, thinking that it was a small cardboard box, and it was only as I pulled closer to overtake him that we found out the truth… When two chunks of wood came flying out of the tray, and one bounced off the road, hit our windscreen and as well as scaring the jewillikers out of me, left a sizeable crack on one side of our windscreen. I’m sure no one will be very surprised to hear that although we managed to get the driver to pull over, he denied it and said we were just trying to blame him for a pre-existing crack: since we don’t have a dash cam, it was our word against his. Of course, that put a bit of a damper on our morning!! Still, we were due in Spur Cross Stables later that afternoon for a trail ride, so we headed down there to meet our trusty steeds.
We had a great guide—who really reminded me of 30 Rock’s Jenna Maroney—to show us around the Arizona scenery, and she was a wealth of knowledge about what we saw. Apparently the saguaro cactus (those one with the funky arms, which they use for balance due to their great height) can live for up to 400 years, which really astonished me. We also discovered that virtually everything in this desert environment is edible, and were told that prickly pear products are a unique Arizonan treat.
Hot and sweaty from the blazing Arizona sun (but thankfully not burnt), we fed our horses some wizened carrots and headed down to Scottsdale proper. We’ve done so well on the accommodation front during this trip, for the most part (go me!), and the beautiful Sweetwater Cottage Airbnb in Scottsdale was definitely towards the top of a pretty impressive list. The shower was a massive and roomy stone affair: they also had great smelling toiletries, so props for that too.
I spent our historic 40th Day glued to my computer working on my aforementioned essay from about 0830 to 1700 (with a brunch break), while James read (and got a haircut!) and I think we were both relieved to break away and head out for some dinner in the local area. After the previous day’s horseback escapade, and the excellent tour guide briefing, I was determined to try a unique Arizonans specialty: prickly pear anything and everything, but specifically the prickly pear margarita… fortunately, despite being pretty strong, it was also palatable. I mean, I probably wouldn’t pick it again, but at least we tried a prickly pear product! We went for a walk around afterwards and found a stunning paper, stationery and craft store with so many beautiful displays I hardly knew where to look.
James couldn’t be denied a trip to The Great Australian Bakery the next morning on our way out of town: the pies might have been a bit average, but they were pies!
We had previously decided to detour through Tombstone on our way from Scottsdale to Bisbee on Thursday. Though I lived in Sierra Vista, AZ for about four months in 2012, I’d never taken the time to check out Tombstone — and having seen and loved the movie, we were both keen to tick it off the list. It was surprisingly cold after the raw desert heat of Scottsdale the day before and I’m sorry to say I underdressed a little. We saw a pretty funny reenactment of the fight itself, then went wandering through Tombstone before heading to view a wonderful historama (voiced by none less than Vincent Price) which covered the town’s history, including the interesting origin of its name. Apparently a man left the fort at Huachuca and was told by his friends and peers that, “all you’ll find out there is your Tombstone.” So when he set up a silver/gold claim in the middle of nowhere, he called it Tombstone. Cool fact for the day!
When I lived in Arizona, I used to run in a group called the Huachuca Hash House Harriers when I lived in Arizona (I know, I know… I used to run for ‘fun’ on my weekends: I blame the Army), and we did a ‘Red Dress Run’ in Bisbee one weekend… I liked its small-town, artsy feel so much that despite it being a bit of a detour from our trek back to the West, it ended up on our road trip itinerary. We pulled up mid-afternoon, hungry as the wolf and a tad enchanted with the Bisbee vibe: so of course after a feast lunch/dinner, we spent the afternoon wandering the streets, peeping into stores and hugging a puppy [Disclaimer: not necessarily a given feature of Bisbee. I happen to have an excellent puppy radar]. It’s always wonderful when something lives up to your expectations (which Bisbee really did for me!) or when you’d organised something over a month ago & find out that you did a really good job of organising it. Like our hotel! The Letson Loft is tucked away through a narrow doorway, but is a cozy and lovingly appointed hotel that I would delightedly return to some day.
Friday morning saw us wake up in beautiful room 6 and enjoy some delicious complimentary fruit and pastries for a quick breakfast before hitting the road again. Day 42 (the offical 6 week mark) and Santa Fe, here we come! We finally got some local fauna in: a roadrunner dashing across the highway just quickly enough to avoid our relentlessly advancing tyres. Phew! We stopped for lunch in a place called Truth or Consequences–which happened to be right near another town called Elephant Butte (seriously, you can’t make this stuff up)–and then almost suffered a disaster. We stopped for pastries & James went to vault a fence, only for his hand to slip and for him to almost go head over heels. Luckily, he moonlights as a ninja and caught himself, but I think I may have aged ten years in those few agonising seconds.
We got into Santa Fe in the early evening to discover that the Airbnb I’d booked was truly in the boonies: we were north of Santa Fe, had no AT&T service and no surrounding take out options (a tad problematic when you don’t have many food supplies in tow). Despite this, the house was stunning and came complete with a magnificent dog called Willa: her affection was overwhelming. I almost dognapped her (but I failed to take a photo. Riddle me that, world). Our host–a local artist with some beautiful pieces decorating the apartment–offhandedly mentioned some nearby hikes (including the Bandoliers) before she recommended a nearby Santa Fe interactive art display. The brochure was bright, the premise interesting and within the space of 20 minutes, we’d decided to go and check it out.
Meow Wolf was a complete immersive experience, a kaleidoscope world of hidden doorways–passages through fireplaces, cupboards & washing machines–fluorescent colours, musical beams of light, an illuminated dinosaur skeleton that you could play like a xylophone, and so much more. We walked in the front door and we were casually looking around the living room when I noticed the fireplace looked suspiciously deep and surprisingly well-lit from the inside; despite James’s incredulity, I crouched down for a closer look… then crawled right through to another world. Every time we turned around, we discovered another space: there are a total of 70 rooms, all different and all magical. If, for any strange reason, you’re ever in Santa Fe, I can’t recommend this place enough!! It definitely ranks among one of the coolest and most memorable things we’ve done/seen on this trip.
Plus, we ate fancy sandwiches and a charcuterie board afterwards… so you know I’m trustworthy.
We had a lazy morning on Saturday, firstly because James was getting in a good sleep-in, then because I was awake but didn’t want to get out of the warm bed (bonus though, I saw a TV show with a humpback whale getting rescued). When we finally roused ourselves, we pulled some hiking gear on and went to check out the afore-mentioned Bandelier National Monument. I’m sure there’s someone out there rolling their eyes and begging me not to tell them about yet another outdoor excursion, but Bandoliers was a fascinating experience. I mean, we saw mule deer (which I didn’t even know was a thing until James told me) and some weird little squirrels with fluffy ears and really puffy tails (Abert squirrels)… so you know it must have been a pretty great day. The history surrounding Bandelier is incredible and really beautiful: the walls of the canyon are a substance called ‘tuff’, which is compacted, cooled volcanic lava, and there are dwellings carved into the canyon walls. It was incredible.
We also had a final brilliant non-Lawton OK dinner at a local favourite called Gabriel’s… Where they make you your own guacamole at your table! It was delicious. I overate. Oops.
After getting a brisk 4am start under a bejewelled early morning sky, we spent all of yesterday driving… and now we’re home! In closing this chapter of our American Adventures, I’d like to take a moment to thank everyone who’s come along for the blog posts, the photos, the Instagram and Twitter updates and the general hilarity of our incredibly ambitious 6 week escapade. Of course, it’s inevitable that, with so much happening, not everything will make it onto these updates, but we are chock-a-block full of memories, photos, videos and tourist paraphernalia.
When we started this trip, I joked to everyone that James and I were trying to test our relationship- a complete fallacy that I perpetuated for the laughs rather than anything else. This ridiculous, amazing and brilliant adventure has only confirmed for me that there is very little more precious or wonderful in this life than this man that I’m privileged to share my life with. James, every single day you make me laugh, you show me new things, you go on journeys of discovery with me, you support me and love me in such a way that makes my world bright. Thank you.
See you all later in the week!