Jan. 7-10 Santa Fe and Flagstaff
Many of our friends seem to be in various stages of moving to Santa Fe, NM. The brother of one of our close Boston friends is running for Mayor here. Others, who have established themselves already in Santa Fe, participate in the Grumpy Grandpas lunch group and the Raging Grannies singing society. Our friends took us to Harry’s Roadhouse, where the owner perked up when he learned we were from Boston. He told us his Boston story: When he was hitchhiking once he got a ride with a Boston driver. As they were going down the highway, an ambulance suddenly screamed by, and the Boston driver abruptly switched lanes to follow the vehicle, careening dangerously closely behind him, at full speed. A policeman tried to pull him over for tailgating the ambulance. But the Boston driver kept driving, yelling back at the cop: “It’s my brother in there!”
That sounded more like Tennessee or Texas drivers, to us, but never mind. New Mexico has always been full of dreamers and artists, those who make history and those who make it up because it’s a good story. They enjoy myriad transcendental and intellectual approaches to the unknown, including sunset rituals, healing massages, Yoga, crystals, secret alien encounters and nuclear experiments, paranormal phenomena, and the devil’s own hot sauce. Other states have politicians who do corrupt and bad things, our friend observed, but New Mexico suffers from a different problem: politicians who do nothing.
I have always loved New Mexico. This time we visited not only our hosts’ graceful hacienda, but also the work-in-progress artist’s house being taken over by other friends, who are in the process of abandoning New York City to move here. Their adopted home needs a lot of repairs. But it has a magic secret. Through a series of strategic portholes in the thick adobe walls, the sun, at the time of solstice, shines through as a solid shaft of light, piercing the entire house.
Alas, my timing was wrong for this miraculous display. Our visit was hampered by my head and chest cold, which was getting worse by the hour. I felt as if I were spreading plague. John, who had gotten sick first in Mississippi, was feeling better now in New Mexico. So he carried on sociably while I fled to our bedroom to sneeze. There would be no visits to Ten Thousand Waves this time, for massages and lunch. Instead we bought several boxes of Kleenex and hit the road on Jan. 9 for Gallup and Flagstaff.
The Texas panhandle had been a series of small rancheros. In New Mexico, we found a few scattered cows and sheep grazing in deep canyons and along flat-topped mesas, sun-washed in ochre and yellow. We were amused by a billboard on I-40 outside Albuquerque, consisting only of the famous bushy black eyebrows, eyeglasses, and mustache of Groucho Marx. “Laugh More,” it said. We did.
Driving parallel to Route 66, we wondered what it actually looked like. At lunchtime we finally turned onto the historic road, where we found the El Rancho Hotel, a once-famous wild west film location. Guest rooms were named for all the top movie stars who stayed here. Forty years later, it seemed pretty quiet, with just a few locals in the café.
Heading toward Flagstaff, AZ, we took a side trip to the Petrified Forest, near Holbrooke. Trees that grew over 200 million years ago washed down here into a massive volcanic sea, and petrified into gorgeous giant stones.
Randy the park ranger told us that the fierce crocodile skeleton displayed at the Visitor Center was a Smilosuchus, dating from the dawn of the dinosaurs, in the Triassic period. https://www.nps.gov/pefo/learn/management/images/smilosuchus-cast.jpg?maxwidth=1200&autorotate=false He said some relatives of this dinosaur grew to be 80 feet long! With this frame of reference, Homo Sapiens seem ridiculously small and arriviste.
With a new sense of our own insignificance, we retired to our Courtyard hotel in Flagstaff, AZ. The next morning, the car was covered with snow!
We had to watch for icy patches on the highway as we headed toward Kingman, where the cozy Siren’s Café had already run out of lunch specials by 12:30 p.m. A postman breezed in, singing to the crowd, “Here’s your mailman!” He hand-delivered packages to each staffer behind the counter, and then turned to the entire room, saying “Thank you for employing me!” Everyone laughed and applauded. Even though it was snowy outside, he was wearing shorts!
Fortified by warm food and good humor, we crossed through a long, lonely stretch of the Mohave Desert into California. All we could see was a mirage on the horizon, as the gas gauge warned us of pending doom. In the nick of time a real oasis appeared out of nowhere, on Route 66 in Fenner. The gas station was owned by a Seventh Day Adventist who strategically placed religious pamphlets on giant display racks that had to be navigated by anyone trying to visit the restroom.
Our own salvation lay many miles ahead, in the Joshua Tree National Park. We didn’t know it yet, but miraculous margaritas and live music were waiting for us, at the Twentynine Palms Inn.