|Rich farmlands northwest of
Gudalahara - everywhere you
go in Mexico there are
|Approaching the border at
Nogales - hard to see, but some
of the trees in the foreground
looked quite ghostly.
|A typical rocky peak
surrounding the charming town
of Guaymas on the Gulf of
Since leaving my childhood home after high school graduation in 1979, I have never felt completely at home.
While I may not have realized or acknowledged it, I never quite settled into whatever apartment or house I was
living in, which seems to explain why it could take weeks before I put pictures on the walls, why there always
seemed to be at least a box or two that would never get unpacked. Even when Dave and I bought our house in
Wilmington, there was an underlying sense of impermanence. Some people are eager to establish a sense of
stability, nesting into new lodgings with vigor, wanting them to feel like home as quickly as possible ... but not me.
Sometimes I wish I could be that way.
The truth of it is I have a taste for the open road. And on our recent Great Western State Tour, I got a sizeable
chunk of it. We set our course northwest from the central highlands of Mexico, through the great city of
Guadalajara and pine-covered mountains past the famed Tequila. Our first stop was on the banks of the Pacific,
at a pleasant truck stop hotel in Mazatlan, which appeared to me a rather dingy place. Proceeding north, we
passed through miles and miles of vast farmland, bordered by distant mountains, an area Dave said reminded him
of the Greater Central Valley in California. We passed by large agricorp buildings and lines of RVs, no doubt
heading to beaches we didn’t get to see. Stopping in Ciudad de Obregon to visit an ATM, we noticed the signs
of gringo-ization – Walmart, Home Depot, McDonald’s. It was a long drive that day, and toward sunset we
diverted into a jewel of a town, Guaymas (we continued to pronounce it gwee-ah-mas until Arturo let us know it’s
actually why-mas). Nestled amongst craggy orange peaks on a cove of the Gulf of California, the main boulevard
is lined with charming buildings. Though we had seen much beautiful country up to that point, this was the first of
many times on our trip we vowed we must return. As we drove north through the Sonoran desert and the sun
sank below the hills, it seemed the light would never fade from the west. But soon the stars were blanketing the
dark sky as the glow on the horizon shifted from our left to 12 o’clock, and over a rise the lights of Hermisillo
shone like a box of treasure. This sizeable city is very US-like, similar to Monterrey, and we didn’t see much of it,
as it was after dark. Apparently Ford has a big plant here where they manufacture a number of their models,
along with a number of other American companies.
More lovely scenery awaited us on the way to the border, roads twisting through low desert mountains past
intermittent shacks and warehouses. After paying our toll to cross the bridge from the Mexican side, we
encountered a line of trucks, with indication that autos should take the lanes to the left. The tractor-trailors
seemed never to end until all of sudden they were all over the place, blocking the road. There are two or three
lanes designated for these monsters, but apparently some of them had decided they would try to jump ahead, so
they had proceeded in the auto lanes and were now trying to nose their way into their proper avenues where
concrete dividers formalized their path. And I’m not talking three or four – they were, as I said, all over the
place. After winding our way through the maze, we thought we were at an impasse when a Mexican gentlemen
insisted we could squeeze through, right here, between this asshole and the fence. This sort of thing freaks me out
every time, and they do it constantly around here – cars passing each other, inches away, in the narrow streets,
often requiring one to pull in his sideview mirror. I do everything I can to avoid this situation when I’m behind the
wheel, but I was forced one time to maneuver between two big pickups, at the insistence of the driver facing me.
I just knew Dave would be livid when I showed up with a big scrape down Fabiola’s side. But Fabi is
miraculously unscathed, and sure enough that man at the border guided us through handily. We had a bit of a wait
at customs, where vendors wandered between the cars hawking food and toys. Unlike Loredo or what we could
see in Matamoros, there were high-tech gadgets all over the place, scanning our car, and we were told to pull
over. These serious border guards started asking if we were carrying a whole list of things – fruits, meats,
weapons. I said I had some ketchup packets, and the woman wrinkled her nose and waved her hand. After
maybe five minutes of poking around at the back of the car (good thing they didn’t unload it and find that
Salvadoran man hiding behind the suitcase – JUST KIDDING for those of you with no sense of humor), we were
officially in Arizona.
Southern Arizona has become a Mecca for retirees seeking the dry heat of that mountainous desert. The interstate
was spotted with handsome gated communities, appointed with immaculate landscaping and surrounded by
familiar big-box store malls. In short order we passed through Tucson and on to Phoenix, an attractive city with
nice, wide avenues. For months we have been streaming Air America KPHX-Phoenix, where our nightly ritual is
to scream along with Mike Malloy as he rails against the Bush Crime Family. One commercial we had heard was
for a place called Burger Betty’s, so we thought this the ideal spot for lunch. After some tasty burgers, we made
circles along the frontage roads of I-17 until we found our hotel. The girls and I set off for a little shopping in the
rain and ended our day with a soak in the jacuzzi right outside our door. Abi and Elea, who like most kids go
crazy with the idea of having a pool wherever we stay, have come to appreciate the existence of a spa when the
weather makes swimming undesirable, and whenever I would book a room for our next destination – which I
tended to do on the fly for this trip – all they cared about was whether there was a hot tub. Amazingly, though we
stayed in moderately-priced rooms, a good number of them did.
As anyone who has visited the Grand Canyon will tell you, it is definitely a trip worth making. From Flagstaff, we
drove through pine mountains, a layer of snow surrounding us. Re-emerging into orange desert, we stopped at the
Little Colorado River Gorge Navaho Tribal Park overlook, where Indian women were selling jewelry, dream-
catchers and other native accoutrements. Over a railing you can look into an impressive canyon, the western edge
of the Grand with the river flowing along the bottom. It looked quite small but was so far down it was hard to tell
its size. Soon, we were in the Grand Canyon National Park, where the snow was again blanketing the woods.
We drove across the southern rim, stopping at most of the overlooks. Elea was enchanted with the snow, having
never experienced it, and insisted on eating it and even throwing a snowball at a stranger. We rode around the
little village, where we presume the people who work at the park live, and we learned in Tusayan, the little town
right outside the park, where we stayed the night, that employers are having a difficult time finding people to work
there, even though they typically provide lodging (we even ran into some Brazilians working in one store). Who
wouldn’t want to live and work in such a beautiful place? Guess there’s just not enough night life or something.
In the morning we set off for Las Vegas, but on the way we took a slight detour through the town of Bullhead
City, Arizona, where fourteen years ago Dave and I were married. We located our little wedding chapel and
were surprised that not only was it open (you have to call if you want to get married) but the minister who
performed our ceremony was there. His little love shrine had expanded to take over the dog groomer that had
been next door, and the girls were excited to see it. There was a local reporter doing a story on wedding chapels,
and she loved hearing our story about how we had set out from Los Angeles, moving Dave to South Carolina, and
played somewhat of a game of matrimonial chicken when we ended up at James Harden’s “A Perfect Wedding
Chapel.” The new happy couple was ready to walk down the aisle, so after a quick lunch we sped on our way
across the barren desert to Sin City.
More later ...
THE GREAT WESTERN STATE TOUR
|A section of that fence that
protects us from those evil
|The Indian on the res - Abi takes
in the Little Colorado River
Gorge on the Navaho Nation
|Yes we were there - you can
see the snow to my left.
|Too many beautiful views to
choose from ...
|Dave contemplates the mere
6,000 years some claim it took
to create this natural wonder -
yeah, right, and it only took him
a day to grow that beard...
|The products of union - Eleanor
and Abigail at A Perfect
Wedding Chapel in Bullhead