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Published: October 6th 2014
I sometimes think of traveling in the United States as being a bit generic. I think of everyone watching the same television shows, eating at the same chain restaurants and watching the same blockbuster Hollywood releases. It seems like you could turn on the radio in most parts of the country and hear the same basic playlists played by DJ’s that have similar sounding voices. Sometimes I think America just doesn’t have the exoticness of India, the artiness of Italy or the eccentricity of Thailand. My thinking would be wrong.
Admittedly, uniqueness is a little harder to find in America. You have to get out of the main cities, off the major interstate freeways and away from the fast food outlets. Go into the country, away from what is advertised in the sophisticated glossy magazines. Maybe follow that 2 lane highway along the river until it crosses a couple of small bridges and winds through a few valleys. Eventually you’ll start seeing a few houses on unpaved dirt roads. Maybe a few one lane bridges. At night the Milky Way is brightly visible and you may hear coyotes crying in the night. There are less fences and more
wildlife. The signs on the side of the road indicate more curves up ahead.
The people are a little different, too. At first, it might make you feel uncomfortable. They may seem a little off kilter. In conversation, they say things that you didn’t quite expect. They look at things different here. They don’t have jobs or experiences that you have ever had. They are artists, hippies, free thinkers, bikers and maybe even revolutionaries. They got a little farther off the grid because they didn’t want to live in the generic world where you come from. Maybe they ARE a little strange or at least have a different perspective. Some tell stories about things you haven’t experienced. They do spend a little longer in a conversation. They think a little harder about things. You start to appreciate their perspective. Different turns out to not be a bad thing.
The Southwestern United States is full of interesting places that are at least as interesting as the people. The mountains are a little bigger here and definitely more colorful. Some have more than one color and could even be flat on top. The roads follow valleys
that have crystal rivers in them. The valleys are often deep and raw. The air is a little thinner and cleaner here. The views are a little longer. You can see storms coming from longer away. The clouds make sunsets that are unbelievable and almost have personalities of their own.
Living in Taos for a month gave us an opportunity to get out and see a part of America that definitely is not ordinary. We travelled west across the vast mesa towards the small town of Abiquiu. Abiquiu was made famous by the artist Georgia O’Keeffe in the mid 1900’s. She stayed at the famous Ghost Ranch and painted many of her most beautiful paintings here. The ranch is now a retreat, a gathering place for people who are searching for something they couldn’t find where they are from.
We drove to Santa Fe, New Mexico on a cool morning from our cabin in Taos. Santa Fe is the smallest state capital in the United States and also the highest. The first thing you notice is all the buildings are of the same adobe style. It’s the law. The next thing you notice is
Near Abiquiu New Mexico
an incredible amount of art galleries and studios. Canyon Road has over 200 galleries itself. The downtown is filled with stunning galleries and museums on nearly every corner.
Taos has a famous Native American Pueblo that has been continuously inhabited for more than 1000 years. While most reside somewhere else now, it still serves as a center for their culture and is often closed for timeless celebrations and ceremonies. We visited on one of our last days in Taos and it made for a fitting end to our unique cultural immersion in northern New Mexico.
We decided to continue our travels in the Southwest. The first touches of winter were beginning in Taos and we wanted to go somewhere warmer. We decided to head toward Southern California. We weren’t interested in sophisticated Los Angeles. Even Palm Springs sounded too gentrified. We thought it would be fun to follow Route 66 from Albuquerque through northern Arizona and into the Mojave Desert in Southern California to our new home in Joshua Tree, California.
It took us 2 days of leisurely driving along Interstate 40 (which replaced much of Route 66). We travelled south
to Albuquerque and then west towards Gallup, New Mexico. We had lunch in Gallup at the famous El Rancho Hotel, called the “Home of the Stars” due to all the celebrities who stayed here while filming Western movies in the 1940’s and 50’s. We passed the Petrified Forest, Painted Desert and Navajo Reservation in Northern Arizona before taking a short detour along the original Route 66 in Winslow, Arizona. Winslow takes good advantage of the famous Eagles song “Take it Easy” about a girl checking a guy out on a downtown street. Huge groups of tourists were each posing in the center of downtown on a corner where a red “flat bed Ford” was cleverly parked.
The desert turned to pine forest as we neared Williams, Arizona, our destination for the night.. Surprisingly nearly every hotel in town was full of tourists heading to the Grand Canyon the following day. Nearly every restaurant in town had a wait list for dinner. It was surprising to hear so many different languages being spoken in such a rural small town.
The next day we were up early and on our way along Route 66 again. We
Joshua Tree Sunset
Juniper Tree and Granite Monolith
finally turned south at Lake Havasu, Arizona where we briefly stopped to visit the London Bridge that was reconstructed here to encourage tourism. The lake and surrounding area were gorgeous after so much desert scenery and following the azure blue Colorado River through the rough, red and black hills punctuated by many small palm tree oases was absolutely gorgeous.
After leaving the river it was into the Mojave Desert. What a strangely, hauntingly beautiful sight the desert was. Nothing here but rough mountains and flat, treeless scenery. Mirages were everywhere but nothing but dry, salty lake bottoms could be found. No people or towns and only an occasional freight train to keep us company as we made our way across.
Joshua Tree is located 2 hours east from LA and an hour north from Palm Springs. It is in the high desert just north of Joshua Tree National Park. Joshua Tree is not the Southern California most people think of. It is full of artists, rock climbers, retirees, Marines, tourists and cowboys and, to be honest, some rather odd people, all looking for a piece of their dream in the sparse desert.
It is just getting to the end of the summer heat. Days are still plenty warm, but the nights are wonderfully cool and clear. It is the perfect time to explore the park and we have spent our first week here hiking and driving the massive 800,000 acre park. We live just outside the main gate to the park which makes it a short trip to enter. We explored hidden valleys, massive granite rock formations and of course marveled at the unique namesake trees which only grow in the Mojave Desert.
The daytime scenery is wonderful and the nights are filled with stars. Big Horn Sheep, coyotes, foxes and tortoises can be seen here. Unfortunately snakes are too, and we have seen a few during our hikes. The sunsets are wonderful and at sunrise the massive rock formations take on a life of their own.
The people are welcoming and friendly despite everyone’s obvious differences. We are looking forward to our month long stay in our small cabin outside Joshua Tree. We look forward to art shows and music events in the coming days. We continue to be amazed by the uniqueness of
an interesting part of the country that we mistakenly thought might be gone.
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