Diary of a Kiwi Bookcrosser

From my travel journal: Tuesday 5 April, 10 pm

Flagstaff, Arizona

Apparently the time here is the same as it was in Nevada - no idea what those signs were about then.

Leaving Las Vegas (hmm, wasn't that a film?) took a lot longer than we'd planned., Firstly because we all slept in after our night on the town, but also because the crack in the windscreen had grown to the point of being dangerous, so we had to first find the rental company's offices (which took a while, because GPS woman kept directing us wrong - she seemed determined to send us to casinos), and then wait while Skyring filled in a million forms and the company found us another car. The new one is exactly the same as the old, other than the colour - it's now a nice red, much easier to find in carparks than the silver one (though the NZ flag flying from the radio aerial also helps :-)).

The entire contents of the car dumped in the carpark while we wait for our shiny new red car - it's amazing how much junk we'd accumulated in just a few days!

Anyway, between all that it was past lunchtime by the time we got out of the city, and we hadn't even had breakfast yet (we didn't have breakfast at the hotel, because we've been having more fun finding somewhere to stop along the way). So we stopped off at a Starbucks briefly for muffins and caffeine to keep us going for another hour or so until we found an actual stretch of Route 66 with an old 50s style diner. Cheeseburger and shake for lunch, of course - what else could it be? (I love milkshakes here - they put whipped cream and a cherry on top!)

FOS recovering from her burger (or possibly just hadn't woken up yet)

(Yes, I am easily amused, why do you ask?)

Travelling through the desert was an interesting surprise. I expected it to be like in Africa, where the landscape is identical for days on end. But instead every hundred miles* or so it changed - sometimes very dry and rocky with just the occasional shrub, sometimes scrubby, sometimes grass, and for a while there were amazing windblown rock formations all around us. And then when we got closer to Flagstaff we found ourselves in a scraggly pine forest, still with snow on the ground - not at all what I'd imagined.

*We're all having to learn to think in miles and yards for navigating. It's very confusing, especially the fact that a mile isn't a sensible number of yards! And having to remember that something being x miles away is a *lot* further than it being x kilometres away, which makes a big difference if it's a toilet (or petrol, or coffee, or any of the other essentials of the road) you're heading for!

Another surprise was the Hoover Dam. I hadn't realised it was on our route until we suddenly came across a huge lake in the middle of the desert. A little further on we found a road leading to a viewing area with a great view down to the dam and the Colorado River way down below.

By the time we got to the turnoff for the Grand Canyon, with still 60-odd miles to go, it was obvious we were going to be racing the sunset, and that we'd at best have only a few minutes of daylight left by the time we reached it. So after consulting the map we decided to go straight to Flagstaff, only about 10 miles away (and where we were booked into a motel for the night anyway, having intended to go there after the Grand Canyon), and have an early start in the morning so we can backtrack to the Canyon in the morning.

So here we are in Flagstaff. No late night adventures tonight, because we have to be up super early in the morning, but we did make one little side-trip after dinner, up a nearby hill to the Lowell Observatory (which I just had to make a pilgrimage to, having done a project on Pluto in 3rd form science :-)). The observatory was closed (:-( it's open in the evenings on Monday and Wednesday nights, but not Tuesdays), but I was happy enough just to take a photo of the sign and say I'd been there.

As we were leaving the carpark, our headlights caught two deer standing on the edge of the forest. DOS and FOS got out of the car and tried to get closer, but only succeeded in spooking them (yeah, calling out "Here Bambi" will do that - they're definitely not cut out to be hunters :-)).

So, five days in, three states down already, and I'm totally loving it! This trip is such a wonderful adventure!

From my travel journal: Wednesday 6 April, 11.15 pm

Albuquerque, New Mexico

If I gain nothing else from this trip, at least I've finally learnt how to spell Albuquerque ๐Ÿ™‚

A very long and adventure-packed day. We've only just got into Albuquerque (ok, now I'm just showing off ;-)) at the very late hour of what we thought was quarter to 10, but we discovered is actually quarter to 11 - finally that time zone change we expected to hit in Arizona has caught up with us.

Earlyish start again tomorrow, so need to sleep now. Hopefully I'll remember everything well enough in the morning to be able to do some catching up while we're on the road.

Returning to the present briefly

I'll continue with the series of travel journal entries soon (I'm just pasting together some montages of the Grand Canyon), but first a wee pause for today's news. Not that there's much, but it's good to come back to the present occasionally.

We've just come back from Riccarton, where we almost but not quite bought a new vacuum cleaner (our trusty old Dyson has so many parts needing replacing that it's been looking more and more economical to just get a new one - and we realised it must be about 11 or 12 years old now, so it's actually lasted quite well). We hadn't intended to buy one today (so today was a success from that point of view!), but we had to go in to the mall to pick up my phone (the one I got in America, which a repair shop were trying to hack for me so I could use it with my NZ provider, but in the end they weren't able to ๐Ÿ™ ), so we decided to have a look at vacuum cleaners while we were there and check out prices etc. But it turned out Farmers had one on sale with a huge discount because it was ex-display, so our intention to buy a new vacuum cleaner in the next few months suddenly turned into let's buy one today. The only slight problem was it wasn't in its box, so didn't have all its bits with it (the various special cleaning heads and things), and when the sales assistant guy went into the back to find them, a couple were missing. So he's put it aside for us, and is going to ring the supplier on Monday and see if he can get replacement parts (and if he can't, he said he'll discount the price even further, which was fine with us, because the extra bits aren't totally essential). So we'll maybe be buying a new vacuum cleaner later this week...

Oh, and in the middle of this very long vacuum cleaner not-buying exercise there was an earthquake. Just a 4.0, but still pretty scary - it's the first time I've felt one while I've been in a shop, and as the shelves were rattling (and a few things falling off, by the sound of breaking crockery from a couple of aisles over) I realised there's absolutely nowhere safe to go in a shop. At home I can go under a doorway, and at work I can go under my desk, but shops have no shelter and lots of things that can fall on you! Luckily nothing did, but it was a bit nerve-wracking for a few seconds there while we waited to see if it was going to get bigger.

I got another catch from America, from the release walk at the zoo: The Worst Soccer Team Ever by William Taylor

From my travel journal: Thursday 7 April, 10.30 am

Somewhere in New Mexico

Incredibly wide flat land, covered in dry yellow grass and very little else. Almost no trees or bushes as far as the eye can see. We did see some antelope though! A mini-herd of 5 of them grazing just off the road, their brown and white coats camouflaging them so well that even when I pointed them out to the others it took them a while to spot them. So now we've seen deer and antelope - all we need now is buffalo and we'd have a song...

Yesterday was a day of canyons. First was the big one, the Grand Canyon. It's hard to describe just how big it is - actually, even when you're standing there looking at it it's hard to comprehend how big it is. It looks big, but then you realise that those little boxes you can see about a third of the way down into the canyon are actually buildings, and suddenly you realise just how enormous it really is, in a way that hearing statistics like the opposite rim being nearly 18 km away just can't convey. But your brain just can't contain the size, so even then you really can't keep a sense of the hugeness of it in your mind.

That little white speck is a building!

We spent quite a while at the canyon, finding different viewpoints (and getting confused by the GPS, who seemed determined to direct us to the kennels when we actually wanted a post office). I could have happily spent days there, because every time the light changed (there were a lot of clouds, but the sun broke through every so often) it looked completely different. I would love to have seen it in full sunshine. And of course we'd only managed to see a fraction of it from the viewpoints around the village. But we had to get back on the road (and besides, the wind was biting cold, and there were even a few snowflakes falling!)

DOS keeping Wolverine warm (or possibly just making sure none of his limbs fell into the depths of the canyon)

A reconstructed Hopi house. There was a museum inside, but we didn't have time to have a look.

Squirrel! (Yes, I know they're boring to most of you, but we don't have them in NZ, so I think they're interesting :-))

Just outside Flagstaff we found Walnut Canyon, a much smaller canyon (that in a weird way felt bigger, just because it was on a more human scale so the size was comprehensible). The canyon walls are lined with the remains of prehistoric dwellings. A steep path (the guy in the gift shop said it had 280 steps - it felt like a lot more coming back up, but that was partly because of the altitude - Flagstaff is about 7000 feet above sea level, and it was noticeably harder to breathe with even that little bit of exercise of climbing the steps!) took us part way round the canyon walls among the ruins, but a slip had closed part of it off, so we couldn't do the whole walk.

(Funny, the path doesn't look that steep now I'm back at sea level :-))

Apart from the ruins themselves, the most interesting thing was the landscape - there was a visible difference in vegetation between the sunny and sheltered sides of the canyon, with more trees (juniper and some sort of small pine) on the sheltered side, and more cacti (mostly prickly pear) on the sunny.

Next stop was Winslow (as in "standing on a corner in Winslow Arizona"). There is a corner that's been turned into a monument to the song, complete with a flatbed Ford parked at the curb ๐Ÿ™‚

The windows on the building behind are painted on - part of a mural depicting the lyrics of the song

We had lunch in a sports bar decorated with American football team jerseys and pennants. It was obviously where the locals eat, not a tourist place. The usual mixture of Mexican and diner-style offerings on the menu, but I found something different to try: "Navajo tacos", which was Native American-style frybread topped with chilli. The frybread was very nice, and not as fried-tasting as I'd worried it might be - it was kind of like a doughnut in texture (but flat, and savoury rather than sweet).

Talking of Native Americans, I've noticed they make up a large proportion of the population here, especially among shop and restaurant staff. In California and Nevada, most of the staff were Latino, but here and in Arizona it's been mostly Native Americans. That I'm seeing them mostly in service jobs says a lot about their status in society, but it's nice to at least get to meet some of the original inhabitants of this continent, at last!

Of course, there's also the inevitable tourist version of Native American culture - every few miles there's a gift shop with a name like "Pow Wow Souvenirs", selling the local equivalent of plastic tiki, and there was even a motel where the rooms are shaped like giant concrete teepees.

By the time we reached the Painted Desert/Petrified Forest National Park it was getting late, but the ranger on the gate said we'd just be able to get through to the other side of the park before it shut. So it was a bit of a rushed visit. It wasn't as impressive as I expected, but I think that was because the light was so dull, as it was heavily overcast and beginning to rain. You could see stripes of different colours in the mesas, so I imagine in bright sunshine they'd be quite vivid.

Ringbear in the petrified forest

It's amazing what a little bit of playing with contrast and colour density can do ๐Ÿ™‚

Then it was just a long long trek down the interstate in the dark and rain (and incredibly high winds, which were a bit scary when we were passing the many trucks on the road, which were swaying from side to side with the wind). Our only stops were very brief ones to take photos of the signs indicating we'd crossed the border into New Mexico, and, a little further on, the continental divide. In the wind and icy rain we didn't linger though - just stopped long enough to open a window and stick a camera out, then wind it up again as quickly as possible!

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