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  1. #1

    Default Austin, TX, to San Antonio, TX, via Nebraska and Monument Valley

    DAY ONE

    The aim was simple. Spend some time at the SxSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas, before heading north to Montana to interview writer, James Crumley. As we say in England, piece of cake.
    Except that it was a 4,000 mile round-trip drive and I needed to be back in San Antonio to catch a flight in 11 days. Still, I do love a challenge.
    Donna and I wake up 5am and head out on the road. To be honest the drive north was pretty unremarkable. This part of Texas was flatter than Kate Moss's chest - just lots of car lots, porn stores and fireworks stalls.
    We hurtled through Oklahoma on to Wichita, where we pre-booked a room in the Hotel at Oldtown, a nice enough downtown establishment.
    I seem to be catching a cold. Uh-oh.

    DAY TWO


    When we woke it was pouring and there were tornado warnings. I quickly realise that Montana might now be unlikely. Still, after a fine breakfast we headed north. The rain was so heavy we overtook Noah's Ark twice.
    Donna starting to get grumpy. I really don't blame her - driving in this weather is pretty miserable.
    Stopped at Mankato, Kansas, for gas. The town seems to be on its uppers. We're headed to the Geographic Centre of The Contiguous US, a mile or two from Lebanon. We get lost. It's not well signposted. When we find it, it's still raining but we get out and take some cheerless snaps of a fairly joyless monument (there's even an abandoned motel standing next to it). When we find out later that the monument is probably not accurate it kind of sums up our day.
    Mid afternoon we reach Red Cloud, Nebraska, another town suffering but nonetheless able to sustain a newspaper, the Red Cloud Chief. Think about offering them a piece about the rain on the plains but figure they probably have that covered.
    Finally make it to Kearney, Nebraska. All the decent hotels are booked because of a crane convention (I think they mean birds rather than construction equipment). Finally find a fairly awful place to stay. Won't mention its name but it does rhyme with Americinn. Donna truly fed up and I'm feeling guilty because this is her first roadtrip and I think I've messed up.
    Also the wretched cold is getting worse.

    TBC

  2. #2

    Default "This part of Texas was flatter than Kate Moss's chest" :)

    Great to see another report from the 'pen' of Paolo99... you certainly have a great way with words :) Looking forward to seeing how this one works out and hoping it gets better as the days tick by!

  3. #3

    Default Will Donna forgive me for Nebraska...?

    DAY 3


    Donna has quick swim in hotel pool although the water is so cloudy it looks as though it might be able to sustain several forms of carniverous life-forms.
    Mind you, in the mood she's in, I wouldn't fancy a croc's chances.

    We stop off at Aunt Lou's where Donna treats herself to a Ranch Skillet, a dish that is clearly designed for those with a larger appetite. Seriously, it comes on something that looks as though it's already had a useful life as a satellite dish for NASA. Donna deals with it summarily in about 45 seconds.

    At 10am we head west on I-80 hoping for better weather (yes, it's still raining).
    It starts to snow. Really heavily. "At least the rain has stopped," I offer helpfully. Donna's glance in response almost makes my hair fall out. We stop off at Gothenburg to check out the Pony Express station. After we get back in the car Donna asks, "Do you think they give prizes for the dullest tourist attractions?" This is really not going at all well.

    Heading west we gain an hour as we enter the Mountain Time Zone. "Oh goody, another hour to enjoy all this scenery hidden behind the blizzard." I blow my nose for the 400th time this morning. I can barely see the road for the tissue mountain that now surrounds me.

    We hit Colorado and suddenly there's this weird blue stuff above us. Apparently, it's called sky. The mood in the car lifts immediately. We call ahead to the Adam's Mark hotel in Denver to book a room. Now there are strange undulations appearing at the side of the interstate. We look in the guide books. "Hills" they call them.

    We get off the interstate and head to Stirling. The weather is now positively glorious. We're singing in the car now. Stop off at Bummer's for lunch.

    Get to hotel at 6pm. Margaritas are had. You can guess how that ends...

    DAY 4

    Another day in Denver. We explore. It's a rather dinky little city. Donna buys the whole of Urban Outfitters. In the evening we watch Sideways. I love that film.

    DAY 5

    After a mountain of berries we head off south. We're intending to hit Santa Fe and stay at the La Fonda hotel. My cold is now definitely life threatening. Donna dismisses it as Man Flu, the heartless witch.
    A pleasant drive gets better as we edge into New Mexico. There's lots of mountains and weather. Heading towards Santa Fe we spot this incredible anvil-shaped cloud. I decide to head towards it after spotting a scenic route to Santa Fe. US-64 is indeed scenic but it's also right in the path of the weather system. Another blizzard hits us as night falls and the switchback road offers a 'challenging' drive. Finally make it to Santa Fe at 9pm, probably two hours later than if we'd stuck to the I-25. Luckily the food at La Fonda is great.

    DAY 6

    We spend the morning in Santa Fe. It's nice enough but I find it a little chi-chi for my tastes, a little too wholegrain. Have a splendid Mexican breakfast at The Plaza, stock up on cold remedies and about three tons of tissues.
    Set off for Arizona at 12.30pm via the Turquoise Trail. Donna now in full photographer mode so we manage about 200 yards in 4 hours. At Cerillos where Bad Boys was filmed she's briefly menaced by a three-legged dog. A brief snarl soon sees him off.

    On I-90 as we near the Arizona border we see a vast black weather front ahead of us. The temperature drops from 75 to 45 in 10 minutes. It's a blizzard with about 20ft of visibility. Damn, but I really love American weather. You guys don't do anything in small measures do you?

    Finally make it to Flagstaff, a really nice frontier town. It's a good mix of liberal and blue collar - my kind of town. We check into the Hotel Monte Vista, a characterful old place with the surliest staff on the planet.

    We head to the bar where a local, Daryl, tells us he loves England and that he especially loved Hamburg. He takes no notice at all when we tell him Hamburg is in Germany. We meet more locals who think it hilarious to make the silly English people drink vast quantities of tequila. Of course, being the good-mannered, cultivated people we are, we happily oblige.

    TBC

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Washington state coast/Olympic Peninsula
    Posts
    3,318

    Default "Man Flu, the heartless witch"

    LOL.....loving it. Your writing is a hoot. I feel like I was hiding in your backseat.

  5. #5

    Default Partner wanted....navigational skills a plus...

    DAY 7

    Up at 10am and head straight to cafe for breakfast in order to deal with incipient hangovers.
    Today is Grand Canyon day, so we load up and head on out. Unfortunately my pea-sized bladder is playing up. Stop at rest-stop but inadvertently barge in to ladies' toilet. Make a small child cry. Oops.

    There's a huge queue for the Grand Canyon National Park. The lady in the pay booth tells us it's because it's spring break. Having heard of spring break I crane my head around but cannot see any drunken females whipping their tops off or any inebriated lads trying to have intercourse with a tree. Shame.

    Finally reach the canyon and I have to admit it's quite big isn't it? Not too shabby. The weather is fantastic too which helps. My favourite viewpoint is the desert view with the stone watch tower which, for me, gives a real feel for the unimaginable scale of the whole thing. The Colorado looks about 5 feet wide from this distance.

    And those mounds off to the right....are they burial mounds?

    The drive down from the canyon is lovely, with the soft sunlight saturating the red landscape. Hunger forces us to stop off at the Trading Post Dining Room in Cameron, where we both order vast quantities of food. We head back to the Monte Vista. Sleep.

    DAY 8

    Check out of hotel. We now seem to have 12 bags each. How did that happen? Breakfast at Cafe Express. Very good indeed.

    We head off towards Monument Valley. To be honest I'm more excited about seeing Monument Valley than I was about Grand Canyon.

    The roads are incredible. Stop off at gas station for water and lemon iced tea. Donna, who has always wanted a dog, is pleased to see the 3,454 mangy curs hanging round the gas station. We make Monument Valley at 2.20pm - it's taken us 3 hours. We thought it looked like a 90min drive. Can't you do something about these distances out west? They can be damned inconvenient.

    The mittens just sit in the middle of the valley floor like implacable gods. It is truly stupendous. We drive some of the trail around the park but nothing compares to the sight from the viewpoint. It's a really wonderful 2 hours. Even my pneumonia feels better.

    We, begrudgingly, leave and stop off at a cafe called San Juan situated near the river of the same name. The fruit smoothies are fantastic. We think the waitress has shovelled in a spoonful of crack.

    Long drive east through southern Utah and the Navajo Nation. Still amazing landscape but I drift into Sunday evening melancholy. We make Durango, Colorado, at 8.30pm and find the Strater Hotel, a grand old downtown hotel. Amazing value at $79. Went to the Diamond Belle bar for some fine bluegrass and amber beer. Splendid.

    DAY 9


    Both awake early and now Donna has started sniffling too. Of course, her cold is way more nasty than my minor ailment. Which may explain events later. Good breakfast once again and we're off again. We need to head south now, back down towards New Mexico. So, my trusty navigator directs me onto the 550 and off we go.

    20 mins later and it all seems rather mountainous. Donna says that the map has marked said mountains as a - and I quote - "big hill". I know everything out west is bigger but surely those vast rocky crags are not just big hills.

    Hmm. Come across a Molas Pass Summit, Elev 10910 FT sign. Nearly completely covered in snow. Interesting hill. As we head into a town called Silverton - 60 miles NORTH of Durango - it becomes quite clear that my foxy lady has directed us the wrong way up 550. Oh well, it was a really nice detour.

    I think you know when you really click with someone when the first reaction to such a goof up is to both laugh. Well, I did laugh after I'd pushed her into a snowdrift.

    We head back south. A fair portion of the drive towards New Mexico is unprepossessing but the day is enlivened when a traffic cop decides to sit on my tail and wait for me to make a mistake. For a whole hour. Luckily I don't give him occasion to pull me over. Or he would've found Donna locked in the trunk (well, she has to learn somehow).

    We make Albuquerque and book into the Sheraton Old Town Inn ($85, another bargain). I have writing to do so we sit down in the cocktail bar, me with my laptop and Donna with a book. Cocktails are drunk and there is dancing later.

    DAY 10

    It's a slow start. Finally hit the road at midday. Promptly engulfed by sand storms and tumbleweed. One was as big as a house.

    Despite yesterday's farrago, Donna's role as navigator has expanded now to include making predictions for our ETA at various points en route. After hundreds of miles of very beautiful nothing, we make it to Las Cruces at 4.35pm, spot on Donna's earlier prediction. Hell, she's smart as well as purty.

    We stop for gas and a steak sandwich (unfortunately it was steak in the same way that day is night) and a chat with a cashier who says, "Are you guys from Europe? My boyfriend Erik is from Norway - do you know him?"

    El Paso looks a little down at heel but maybe because we hit it at rush hour and the traffic frustrates us. The traffic thins eastwards as we hurtle along I-10 accompanied only by a phalanx of huge trucks. We'd forgotten about losing an hour heading back into Central Time so we miss the 9pm dinner curfew at the Hotel Limpia (the highest hotel in Texas) in Fort Davis.
    One thing I didn't miss, as we drove the 50 miles cross country from the I-10 to Fort Davis, was a big old rabbit who threw himself into the path of the Camry. The poor bunny stood no chance.

    DAY 11

    I'm up at 7am to file copy back to the UK. The hotel has wireless internet that extends to its porch. It's a very civilised way to work, sitting on a porch swing in deepest west Texas, as the sun burns off the mist and the birds sing. I rouse Donna at 9.30am and we have a super breakfast at the Drugstore. Fort Davis is a proper little small town. I like it.

    Donna has long coveted an authentic pair of cowboy boots so we head into Alpine where Donna buys a pair of boot and I score myself some lentil-eating Birkenstocks (I find out, more than a year later, that Donna hates the Birkies and thinks they look like Cornish pasties...).

    A long, long drive to Big Bend NP. Stop off at Study Butte for picnic provisions. I think we may be getting a little jaded because Big Bend doesn't really float our boat. We're developing scenery fatigue. Anyway, I'm certainly getting very bored with driving and Donna wisely agrees that we should head straight to the Gage Hotel in Marathon for a spot of early evening R&R.

    We arrive there at 6pm and it's worth it. The Gage is probably the nicest place we have stayed so far. We have a room in a couryard annexe and roll up to hear our neighbour, Mike, playing his guitar. His wife, Cathy, and their dog Honey are there too. She licks Paul's legs. The dog, not Cathy.

    We have a few neighbourly beers and toddle off for a disastrous dinner. The waiter, Lane, looks as though he's wandered off from a local home for the thoroughly bewildered. The dinner - when we finally get it 100 mins after ordering it - is not too bad. We then head for the bar and all hell breaks loose.

    We get chatting to some locals - Robbie, Tommy, Mr Cowboy and a batty local artist. They're wonderful fun but all drink far more than even we do. At one point I fancy it's a good idea to buy the whole bar a drink - $200 later I'm not so sure it's such a briliant idea. Once the hotel bar shuts the inebriates try to persuade us to follow them to another local drinking den. We respectfully demur and head to bed. Phew, close escape.

    DAY 12


    We rise at midday on our last full day. We both go for a run....to the toilet.
    We eat breakfast quietly. Donna thinks the sun's too loud. Paul asks the cutlery for a bit of quiet. We drive east towards San Antonio playing a game of I Spy along the way. Stop off for lunch near Del Rio for something deep-fried. I buy a cowboy shirt that I will never wear.

    We get to the Riverwalk Vista Hotel in San Antonio and eat dinner attended by the sweatiest waiter in the world. We barely need any seasoning.
    Donna admits that she's had a great time and wants to do another road trip next year. That'll be our US-50 adventure. We've also since had a southern states trip and this year we plan Chicago-LA journey.

    I think it's fair to say we're both hooked.
    Last edited by Paolo99; 01-20-2008 at 06:09 AM. Reason: tidied up errors

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Location
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    Posts
    10,059

    Default So many great clips herein!

    Quote Originally Posted by Paolo99 View Post
    And those mounds off to the right....are they burial mounds?
    This mystified me -- where did you see these mounds?
    . We thought it looked like a 90min drive. Can't you do something about these distances out west? They can be damned inconvenient.
    I was just in that valley and it took me nearly three DAYS to cover that same distance -- I agree, distances in the west are sometimes unpredictable.
    The fruit smoothies are fantastic. We think the waitress has shoveled in a spoonful of crack.
    I know that place and the smoothies... I think you might be on to something here.
    Or he would've found Donna locked in the trunk (well, she has to learn somehow).
    That is an intriguing concept --
    Promptly engulfed by sand storms and tumbleweed. One was as big as a house.
    This made me LOL!
    We stop for gas and a steak sandwich (unfortunately it was steak in the same way that day is night)
    Ewhhh,
    and a chat with a cashier who says, "Are you guys from Europe? My boyfriend Erik is from Norway - do you know him?"
    Oh yeah, that seems reasonable to me.
    She licks Paul's legs. The dog, not Cathy.
    Oh, we had such high hopes here...
    We rise at midday on our last full day. We both go for a run....to the toilet. We eat breakfast quietly. Donna thinks the sun's too loud. Paul asks the cutlery for a bit of quiet. We drive east towards San Antonio playing a game of I Spy along the way. Stop off for lunch near Del Rio for something deep-fried. I buy a cowboy shirt that I will never wear.
    Another great day for roadtripping!
    We get to the Riverwalk Vista Hotel in San Antonio and eat dinner attended by the sweatiest waiter in the world. We barely need any seasoning.
    Oh my...
    I think it's fair to say we're both hooked.
    As we are hooked on your field reports -- I hope it is short spell before you are back with more!

    Mark

  7. #7

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Editor View Post
    This mystified me -- where did you see these mounds?

    Mark
    I'm not sure how to load tidy links....but this is a picture of one of them....

    [Photo Credit: NPS]
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 01-20-2008 at 12:49 PM. Reason: added the image

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Location
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    Posts
    10,059

    Default That is natural

    That is known as a mesa -- formed by the erosive qualities of wind and rain.

    Mark

  9. Default

    Great stuff - Thanks!

  10. #10

    Default really, wow...

    Quote Originally Posted by Editor View Post
    That is known as a mesa -- formed by the erosive qualities of wind and rain.

    Mark
    Looks too symmetrical to be natural. Shows how much I know. Thanks for clearing that up.

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