Friday, January 31, 2014

Las Vegas

What a change of scenery, after nearly a week of virtual solitude, her I found myself surrounded by people. The shimmering buildings skyrocketing towards the heaven had replaced the stone monuments. Thousands of people scurried about the sidewalk, forcing their way past slower walkers, half looking up in wonderment, half looking down in despair.

Las Vegas is a dichotomous city, poverty and excesses stand hand to hand in jaw dropping juxtaposition. Down trodden homeless men and women sit on the sides of bridges, asking for spare handouts. Few people give them any, instead deciding to free themselves of the burden of cash by gambling it away inside the opulent casinos that give life to this desert oasis. The grandeur of it all seems ostentatious as first appearance, then it seduces you, drawing you in with it’s ornate appeal. There is no place in the world like Vegas, it stands alone as a city built on temptation and built to satiate our every desire. 

Some people find it all tacky and vulgar, the fake facades of the elaborate buildings symbolic of the cities showy exterior hiding it’s  seedy ways. Solicitors on the street had out cards with topless women on them to pedestrians, trying to draw up clients for the array of strip clubs. Drunk patrons harass the homeless men, throwing insults at them in a drunken stupor that only highlights the absurdity of it all. But for all Sin City seems to do wrong, it does one thing very well, entertain.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Zion National Park

I knew it would be a cold night, sleeping in the car, so I bundled up and before I knew it, it was morning. Apparently all the sleeping in my car, coupled with my sheer exhaustion from days upon days of hiking, had allowed me to sleep undisturbed for an entire night. Having no real reason to stay I hit the road, once again alone. The sun rose in my mirrors, a familiar sight after over a week of driving west. The red and white rock moutons around me glimmered in the early light of day. 

I crossed into Utah and as I headed through it’s southern reaches a sign read, “89N closed 8:30am-11:30am.” I looked at my clock, I was about 50 miles away and had about an hour before the road closed. If I didn’t make it I would be spending the morning wandering around some small desolate town instead of enjoying the grandeur of Zion National Park. I sped up, unwilling to succumb to that somber fate. Luckily no one else was on the road at this hour and I buzzed through the desert. I reached 89N at 8:25, I was in the last group of cars allowed to pass for the morning, I smiled at this fate. I had not known about the road closure until I hit the road that morning, had I simply stopped for breakfast or awoken just a tad later I would not have made it. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Grand Canyon

I woke up to the dog in the room behind mine barking, relentlessly, the owner seemed to be absent, which seemed unlikely given the ungodly hour. It was 5am and with a solid nights sleep behind me my body refuse to return to sleep so I began my day. It was just before eight when I hit the road, and quickly I realized my ill timing. Phoenix morning rush hour traffic crept along, costing me a good half an hour. After days of virtually empty roads I was unprepared for the demands of city traffic and was soon jostled from my calm state in to a full frenzy, trying desperately to avoid the insanity that was unfolding around me. Eventually the traffic thinned as the city quickly disappeared in my mirrors, once again I was out in the desert, empty desolation surrounding me. 

Soon the road climbed upward and within a couple minutes I was cursing along 6000ft able sea level, the desert plants replaced by evergreen forest stretching out across the rolling landscape. Snow covered the forest floor, the dark green of the trees contrasting with the pure white snow. It was a relatively short drive, and with the changes in landscape the drive went by quickly. Soon I was pulling through the plethora of tourist shops and restaurants that exist just outside the park. I pulled into the park and followed my usual routine, go to visitor center, get map, plan hikes, drive to hike. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The sound of voices stirred me from my sleep, I tried to look out the window but it was all fogged up. The air in the car was cool, my toes had slipped out from underneath my sleeping bag and were cold, I slipped them back under and fell back asleep. 

The sunrise woke me, as expected at just after six in the morning. My night sleep had been more like a series of short naps. Yawning, I rearranged the car, and after waiting patiently for the windows to defog, drove off. I had spent yet another evening sleeping in a Walmart parking lot, this time in Tucson, Arizona. I had seen none of the city save for three young girls, the eldest barely 12, the middle nearing eight and the youngest, who was being pulled in a shopping cart by the eldest, probably 5, walking across a parking lot, alone, at night, wearing an extravagant amount of make up. I shook my head as I finished pumping my gas and set off for Walmart. 

I would see no more of the city today as I skirted around the suburbs and back onto the empty highway heading west. As soon as I reached the city limits the desert was noticeably more lively than the previous days. Giant cacti rose up out of the dry dirt, towering over the shrubs that proliferated on the desert floor. Mountains rose up on the horizon in every direction. As the sun summited a peak behind me the day began. It was still quite chilly, but I had a lot of driving to do, ample time for the sun to warm the land. The further south I drove the more dense the brush became around me, at points small trees hung over the highway and the endless desert views I had become accustomed to, were obscured. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Chiricahua National Monument

When I am eager to do something I am restless, like a kid on Christmas Eve. In this spirit, I found myself wide awake staring at the hotel ceiling at 5:30am. I attempted to go back to sleep, but my mind wasn’t having it, so I decided to get an early start for the day. I had intended to leave the hotel around ten, but having woke so prematurely I was out the door before eight. A hefty drive lay ahead of me but it was broken up by a stop to Chiricahua National Monument, a park I knew nothing about, other than it was on my way and I was desperate for a hike. 

I packed up my things and hit the road, I headed west, as that is where they keep Arizona in relation to Texas, through the city of El Paso. The city was bustling as usual and the traffic was combative. I get a sick joy out of driving in aggressive dense traffic, and energized by the thought of getting out of the car and hiking I weaved in and out of traffic to the consternation of anyone driving slower than me, which happened to be all but a few people. It wasn’t long before I put the city behind me and broke free into the desolate backcountry once more. However, here in Southern New Mexico, the ambling plains concluded in a faint outline of mountains. The early morning sun painted the landscape in golden hues making the farmland come alive. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

El Paso

I have never really given much thought to El Paso, Texas, it was always just some random town down south that I would probably never visit. Yet here I was pulling in through the suburbs into a sprawling metropolis. Apparently El Paso, along with it’s Mexican counterpart Ciudad Juárez is the world’s largest international metroplex, an interesting fact, considering I had always thought of El Paso as a mildly populous city, stuck out in the middle of nowhere. Alas El Paso is quite large, and I found myself quickly engulfed in urbanity as I raced on towards an unknown destination. 

Once I was well within the city limits I found a hotel and choose to stay two nights. It had been a long trip till this point and a day of rest and not driving seemed like a great idea. So I unloaded the contents of my car and instantly dispersed them throughout the square footage of my hotel room. Something about being cramped up in a car for days makes you relish in the concept of open space, and within moments my hotel room was littered with my belongings. I grabbed a quick nap, my legs were tired from the hike in Carlsbad Caverns, before heading off to find some food. My hotel was in the outskirts, and I knew the options for good local food were limit there so I headed towards downtown. I found a small dive bar across the street from a cemetery and tucked myself away at the bar. I ordered a plate of tacos and dazed off. The bar was filled with lively people all mingling and having a good time. It was clear most of these people knew each other, and more than once I noticed a group glancing my way. In my dazed state I hadn’t really noticed that I was the lone gringo in the place, which only boded well for how good my tacos, which were just arriving, would be. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

I can sleep through nearly anything, and nearly anywhere. I have been known to nap in busy train terminals, and have developed the ability to sleep in nearly any contortionist form I can wedge my body into. This trait has served me well over the years, allowing me to travel cheap and has probably saved my life on a few occasions, but that’s a story for another time. However, my nearly infallible sleeping abilities have one nemesis…cold! I can not sleep if I am cold, and 23 degrees is cold, and not coincidently what the interior temperature of the car was during the night. Luckily I had planned for this and donned a hoody and an extra pair of socks before tucking my sleeping bag inside an additional sleeping bag I had. I tossed and turned throughout the night, and thought I had slept quite poorly when I realized the sun was coming up over the horizon. Apparently I had slept pretty decently as I had first shut my eyes nearly 10 hours prior. The clock read quarter past six and I decided it was time to get a start on the day. Carlsbad Caverns opened at 8 and I wanted to be there early to beat the crowds. 

I rearranged the contents of the car and headed off in search of a diner. The only place that seemed open, except for McDonalds, of course, was a small cafe tucked away along the main road. I pulled over, parking my small red coup among the throngs of dusty pick up trucks. I walked in the door and was met with a room full of cowboy hat wearing men, their faces tough and weathered, years in the desert heat working on the farms outside of town had etched their lives work into their skin. I sat at a small table in the corner of the restaurant, the waitress ran over to me and poured me a cup of coffee, evidently my appearance screamed for a need of caffeine. The cafe was bustling, surprisingly considering it was barely six thirty in the morning. I ordered an omelette, which came with toast and has browns. All my food tasted as it should, but took surprisingly long to come out considering they had five cooks working the grills. The waitress never let my coffee cup get below half empty, and never ceased to call me either honey or sweetie. After what had to have been five cups of coffee I paid and headed out, the air still had a nip to it, but the sun was shinning bright, having taken it’s post in the sky. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Western Texas

I stayed in my room until check out time, knowingly putting off getting back in the car for what would be hours of driving. I had already driven through much of the sprawl the night before so within minutes of hitting the road I was in the barren backlands of western Texas, my GPS instructing me to “turn left in 426 miles.” As I crossed the wide open state the landscape went from pastural to desert. I love the desert, something about the rugged landscape just speaks to me, maybe its the foreignness of it all. It’s so far removed from the seaside life I grew up in on the shores of Lake Erie. I love cactuses, but I blame that on my mom who always seemed to have cactuses in our house, I love lizards and snakes and even tumbleweeds. 

A little after midday I stopped and made lunch at a picnic area. I pulled out my map in search of something to do in western Texas and noticed a green patch up on just over the border in New Mexico. “Carlsbad Cavern National Park,” I read in my head. I had heard of this place before, but had somehow forgotten it’s existence. Not only was it closer than El Paso, it was virtually on the way, just a different route but equal miles. With that I changed course and headed to Carlsbad New Mexico. The park would be closed by the time I got there, so I decided I would stay the night in Carlsbad, wake up early and go to the caverns and then head on towards El Paso in the afternoon. Finally after days of driving I had something to actually look forward to, something more than just miles of unceasing pavement. 
Windmills add a nice break from the desolation. 

732 Miles

I had planned on hanging out in Nashville for the day and then heading on to Oklahoma City, but the weather had altered my plans sending me barreling towards Dallas in an attempt to outpace the polar vortex, seriously that’s what it’s called, that was making it’s way across the country. My first stop would be Little Rock Arkansas, but first I would have to deal with the weather that was starting to stir up just outside of Nashville. The snow swirled in the air as the temperature rapidly decreased, however the roads stayed dry and snow free and as I pulled into Little Rock the sun broke through the clouds and shinned on the city. 
I pulled off randomly in a part of town called River Market District and searched for a place to park, the street was clogged with parked car, every spot was taken, yet no one was to be found walking anywhere. I found a parking space and upon exiting my car, instantly realized why no one was around. The temperature read 32 degrees, but the wind blowing down the street felt arctic in nature, piercing through clothing and straight into the bone. I was too hungry to let the cold deter me, so I ventured out to find food. The River Market District was very nice, in that it was very new and very uppity. All the shops rang of the faux culture you get when stores cater to people with too much disposable who think owning things somehow makes them worldly. 
It might not look cold, but I suffered for this photograph!
The pretentious facade was even complimented by a trolly that ran on tracks, which seemed to be driven by a crazy lady whose greatest desire was to take down any person or vehicle who ventured within her domain. I dodged the trolley expertly, using it’s distinct weakness of being on tracks to my advantage, and ducked into a local eatery. 
It may be a crappy picture but it's a picture of a trolley which is relevant to the story.
The place was nearly empty save a few people working on laptops, I took a seat at the bar, which had the benefit of having a television to stare at, and ordered chicken fingers, which seemed to be the only thing on the menu. Granted they had umpteen different breadings and dozens of dipping sauces, but the idea of a restaurant serving almost exclusively chicken fingers seemed rather strange. When the fingers came, however, my mind was instantly changed, these were not your standard pub chicken fingers, these were expertly breaded works of food with sauces that could just as easily be eaten alone. In fact, in hindsight, this was basically just a variation on chicken wings, which we all know are well within there rights to be an exclusive culinary offering of any establishment. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


The ground was still covered in a dusting of snow, the air cold and crisp, as I ventured out to the car. The contents of my life were packed inside, the only possessions I had deemed worthy enough to accompany me into my future. My mind raced with excitement as I took one last breath of the chilly morning air. The next few days would be just me, my honorary possessions and my car. The open road would be where I would be spending my days. Few things in the world excite the mind like the idea of traveling. Nearly anyone you ask has “traveling more” as a goal for their future. Something about the unfamiliar, the foreign, entices us, calls to us. Maybe it is an evolutionary byproduct of the successful prehuman explores, whose ventures into unknown lands allowed humanity to prosper, or maybe it’s just a reaction to the monotony of modern life. The constant repetitions, the endless sameness that occupies our lives. Either way the result is the same, people love to travel, and I am no exception. My love for travel extends back to my youth, inexplicably. 

My family never really traveled, save for a few summer vacations to the standards East coast hot spots. Yet from a young age I always knew I wanted to explore the world. Immediately, upon the acquisition of my independence that comes with being 18 and being sent off to college, I started, venturing off to the old stand-by, Europe. Instantly I was in love, not only with Europe, but with the entire experience of traveling. Meeting new people, seeing new worlds, new lives. Everyday spent traveling garners some memorable experience.

After two years of stagnation it was time to hit the road again. On my previous adventures I had been joined by my friend Shaun Jewell. We spent one summer exploring Europe and another driving through 28 States and 1 Canadian Province. However, on this journey I would be alone, an idea that hadn’t real hit home as I pulled down the drive and off to Nashville, Tennesse.