Nearly home

It’s our last night and although this has been a wonderful trip I’m very glad to be going back to my own bed tomorrow night. We are in St. George, Utah watching Disney’s Descendants (unspeakably awful) on cable TV as a special treat for Eleven and I am quietly packing in the background.

Wyoming was rather wonderful. We spent our first night in Buffalo at its most famous hotel which has housed such illuminaries as Theodore Roosevelt, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and even Ernest Hemingway. In the days of the wild west it was also a functioning brothel and the rooms still retain that sort of decor. I felt (alarmingly?) at home there. I’m thinking it’s because I must have been a gunslingin’ outlaw in a past life, right?

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The next day we drove on to Cody to stay at the Bill Cody dude ranch where we stayed in a log cabin, practiced our rope slinging skills, and rode horses through the canyon. One night we went to the night rodeo which was exactly as I had imagined a rodeo would be. Bucking broncos, calf roping, rodeo cowboys, and much singing of the national anthem and talk of patriotism and Murica. I was slightly alarmed to see the junior broncos, aged under 12, being thrown from maddened young calves (with horns) and more than a couple of kids being trampled upon. I wondered what would make anyone want to put their child in the face of that kind of danger, but I suppose it is a cultural thing.

IMG_4994I forced everyone to get up very early yesterday and although I endured much complaining from my family at first, everyone was glad once we spotted this other family also out for a pre-breakfast expedition.

IMG_5017We also spotted this rather handsome gentleman taking a stroll down the road.

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We made it to Old Faithful (which dutifully erupted) by 8.30am and had a delicious, enormous breakfast at the lodge before heading out of the west gate of the park. We didn’t see much except traffic on our way out and we drove south out of the park into Idaho for a few hours, stopping for the night at Lava Hot Springs which has (amazingly enough) some hot springs in which Husband and the kids took a soak although I was a bit headachey so gave it it miss.  Lava Hot Springs is a very sweet little town, and it has all the most modern conveniences.

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CHECK OUT THE SIGN!! THEY HAVE COLOR TV! BY RCA!

We pulled out of town at 6am this morning and arrived at the lovely Hampton Inn in St. George mid afternoon, and tomorrow we’ll be on the road at 6.30 again and hoping to hit Santa Barbara within 7 or 8 hours of hard driving.

It’s been the most fabulous seven weeks. This country is so rich and varied, its inhabitants so warm, welcoming, and friendly. I’m so glad to have seen so much and to have been able to show my children a bit of their own country.

Still, after seven weeks on the road, I’m now very excited to be going back to our lovely little city on the sea.

East, west, home is best.

 

 

 

How did I get here?

Full disclosure: I am already halfway back across the country after my three week stay in Virginia/Washington D.C. and although I meant to post more I didn’t because things have not turned out as I imagined them.

First of all,  first week of our Virginia vacation, during which my delightful children were supposed to spend four out of the five available weekdays at horse riding camp ended up being two days at camp and one day where all the campers came to our place for five hundred hours and my dad’s new puppy turned out to have defecation placement disorder (i.e. she shits everywhere, all the time) and as a result I got nearly nothing done except cleaning the first week.

The second week, the children refused to go to camp at all and I fell spectacularly off my no-carb, no-alcohol program which had made me feel nigh invincible for the last 12 weeks and started mainlining champagne and pita chips with a side order of donuts. I let them watch cable TV for a good part of each day, read novels instead of writing one, and made the probably wise decision not to put my skinny jeans on again, maybe ever.

The third week Husband showed up and as we had not seen each other for over a month we decided to celebrate our reunion by having an epic row or five which we only just managed to resolve in time for the journey back.

I have done about six pages of editing. Not happy about that but in some large, champagne-induced way I have come to accept it.

So: The return journey. I should, by rights write a witty, informative, amusing post on each stop but instead I’m going to be truthful and just give you the bullet points and let you figure out where you would or wouldn’t go (on all sorts of levels).

First day’s drive:  We go from Virginia to Berlin, Ohio, which is Amish country. If you’re not clear on who the Amish are, just imagine going back in time about 150 years as a devout Christian descended from the Dutch while everyone around you has progressed to the 21st century. You can’t drive a car, you can’t use electricity, you are obliged to wear truly hideous clothes and have bizarre facial hair (usually, but not exclusively assigned to men) that means that people like Eight mistake you for a giant leprechaun and ask you where you’ve buried your gold. You can go and watch the movie Witness if you want a rosy view. I found Berlin unbearably cutesy and a little bit creepy, especially once I’d been to a ‘family farm’ where I saw the most dejected, depressed, ill treated denizens of a ‘petting zoo’ I’ve ever seen. When I got back to our strange cabin, which reeked of old and Febreeze, I googled Amish and animal abuse and that came up with about a million hits as well as child abuse which didn’t endear me to the place any further.

We left the next morning at 6am and headed for Chicago which is actually fabulous. We only spent a few hours in the city but managed to eat fabulous middle eastern food, catch a free rehearsal of an outdoor symphony concert and visit Geeky Mummy at her new home in the posh northern suburbs. We stayed at a Hampton Inn (O! How I love you, nondescript, utterly predictable, waffle-serving Hampton Inns!) and set off the next morning for…

Des Moines, Iowa.

Why Des Moines, you may ask? That is a good question. I don’t remember why Husband picked it, but there it was in all its midwestern glory which is not very glorious. We visited the Living History Farm which was actually quite interesting, and the next day we were briefly the BEST PARENTS IN THE WORLD because we caved in and took the children to Adventureland which is a theme park and water park combined. I actually thought I’d want to kill myself on that day because I a) hate all rides, b) hate crowds c) hate fairs, but actually it was very sweet. I imagined it was like being at Disneyland in the 1950’s before it became unbearably crowded and over branded. Fun fact: Walt helped to design this place so it had a sort of Disney feel without the Disney iconography, and because it’s quite old there were many lovely mature trees providing shade around the place and none of the rides were totally sick making which was perfect for Eight and Eleven. The water park was perfectly nice, too, and we all cooled off in the various pools and after seven hours even Eight was tired.

The next day was De Smet, South Dakota. Five hours hard driving through amazingly boring corn fields and finally we arrived where Laura Ingalls Wilder spent her last years with Ma and Pa On the Shores of Silver Lake. We checked into the Super Deluxe De Smet Inn and Suites (not super, not de luxe, and with the most threadbare towels I’ve ever seen) and headed off to tour the Ingalls homestead and  attend the Laura Ingalls Wilder pageant which was an outdoor theatre performance of one of her books. That was actually very sweet. We sat out on the prairie and watched the local actors, so very proud of their most famous denizen, reenact her life and times. It’s worth noting that if you go to De Smet you should bring your own food or plan to starve as the local restaurants are gobsmackingly bad. I ordered a tuna salad at the Oxbow restaurant which looked like a bowl of elderly grass topped with a dollop of cat sick, and even Eight said his fries tasted bad (this literally never has happened before in his entire life). I enjoyed learning more about Laura but I was very keen to get out of there. To give you a sense of how De Luxe the De Luxe De Smet Inn is, here is a photo of the breakfast buffet.

Breakfast Buffet at the DeSmet Super Deluxe Inn

En route to Wall, South Dakota we stopped at Mitchell, SD, hometown of 1972 presidential hopeful George McGovern, and, more importantly The CORN PALACE.  Husband had been talking about this for literally months. He said it was a palace made of  corn. I had to see it.

But, devastatingly, it was not a palace made of corn. It was just a municipal building that is annually decorated on the outside with ears of corn. Still, you can’t make this shit up. It’s all too mad.

 

We headed on to Wall, SD, home of the famous Wall Drug store which has signs advertising it from the state line 100 miles prior. We drove through the Badlands which are truly weird and wonderful. I’ve never seen any natural structures like this. It seems as if, out of nowhere on the flat prairie, God came and made some of those drippy sandcastles in multi colours and sprinkled them full of fossils and then got bored and went elsewhere, leaving behind only a trail of hefty bikers and families in mini vans to examine His/Her handiwork. However it was too hot to explore much more than an hour or two.

We were booked in to the Frontier Wall Cabins (husband’s choice) which purported to be rustic log cabins that made you feel close to nature. I was actually dreading this, but when we arrived it was husband’s turn to feel misled and bamboozled because it is actually a highway-side motel with plastic coated individual rooms that look like they’re made of Lincoln Logs. Each cabin has air conditioning and its own fridge and cable TV. I fucking LOVE IT!

We went into Wall to visit Wall Drug which is full of every kind of western crap made-in-China that you can imagine and had a lunch nearly as bad as the one in De Smet, but surprisingly I bought some very lovely body wash and two nice books at Wall Drug so I came back happy.  At least as happy as I can be with two tired, whiny kids who’d prefer to be at home at this point, and a husband who keeps asking me why the food is so bad here (I don’t know! I’ve never been here before!). Then I felt guilty because I haven’t read or responded to any of my email for 4 weeks and I have totally failed to keep up the blog. So I did what any self respecting Brit would do and bought a packet of ready salted crisps, pulled a bottle of champagne from its secret hiding place beside the spare tire, chilled it in a bag of ice and drank it as quickly as I could while the sun went down. (I did share with Husband. Honest. Hic!)

So. we are geographically halfway home. I can safely say that I liked the south west considerably more than the north east but I’m looking forward to the Wild West of Wyoming for the next four days. We have the rodeo coming up, a dude ranch, a lovely Hampton Inn somewhere in Utah, and then, I shall be VERY GRATEFUL to get back to Stepford where the sun always shines, but not too hot, the salad is always available and plentiful, I have a cat who knows how to poo by itself outside in the neighbour’s garden, and my own lovely, lovely bed.

See you in Wyoming, folks. Yeehaw!

 

In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia

We are finally in Virginia at my dad’s house and I’m very glad to be off the road. After a whistle-stop night in Nashville, TN, a quick look round Broadway, and a massive meltdown by Eight who DIDN’T WANT TO SEE ANOTHER MUSEUM IN HIS WHOLE LIFE EVER, I judged it wise to hang out in our rather nice hotel for that evening and let the kids eat sweets and watch TV while I had a drink with my lovely writer friend, Sabine on the roof terrace. I didn’t see much of Music City, but I have to admit I’m a bit sight-seeing-ed out, too.

Yesterday morning after breakfast we set off, intending to have one more stopover before arriving here but as we got closer we just couldn’t bear another hotel so I drove for 12 hours including a couple of hot dog breaks and at 10pm, in the pouring rain, we gratefully pitched up to the welcoming house, made a cup of tea, and flopped into bed.

It’s so nice to be in a home again. Eleven has spent the day in her PJ’s reading. Eight and I went to the supermarket this morning but otherwise I’ve been pottering around the kitchen and he’s constructed a train track from his aunts’ old set and is now happily playing choo choo. I’m about to have another cup of tea and read a book and in an hour or two my dad and stepmother should be pitching up with their old dog and NEW PUPPY.

Can’t wait.

I will probably post the odd thing or two over the next three weeks just to keep my hand in, but we are ensconced here until mid-July when we set off home again via Chicago, South Dakota, and Yellowstone.

I have to say I felt especially happy to be arriving to the amazingly wonderful news of same sex marriage now being legal and protected in all 50 states. A great day for civil rights!

Memphis, Tennessee

It took nearly six hours including a breakfast stop to drive to Memphis from NOLA, but as we left at 6am we still arrived with plenty of yesterday left. We checked in to the historic and famous Peabody Hotel, where they have live ducks in the lobby fountain, and took the lift to the eleventh floor where our lovely, spacious, and old fashioned room offered us a view of the Mississippi River. The children immediately tuned the TV to The Cartoon Network which seems to play Uncle Grandpa 24 hours per day (AGHH) before I dragged them out again to visit to Graceland,  blasting Hound Dog and Paul Simon’s Graceland on the stereo all the way, much to the children’s chagrin.  I just couldn’t wait.

Except once we got there and paid about a bazillion dollars for the tour, waiting is exactly what we did. Despite arriving at their purportedly least busy time of day (mid afternoon), we ended up sitting around in the visitor’s centre for about an hour before we were shunted past an obligatory photo-opportunity (theirs, to flog us an overpriced picture) and put on a little bus with an iPad to be shuttled over the road to the mansion itself. Eight was already whining that he wanted to go home, he’d had enough, and Eleven, though she didn’t complain, was clearly annoyed with the entire enterprise.
I pretended we were all having a wonderful time and said irritating m0ther-like things such as
“Isn’t this fun!?” when obviously it wasn’t.

The house seemed quite small, really. I thought it was going to be huge – a millionaire’s folly and a monument to bad taste (well it was that) but compared to the McMansions of today, it wasn’t as big or lavish as it might have been. There was a lot of white carpeting downstairs

,IMG_4841 a giant, boxy, small-screened TV in every room, shag carpet on several walls, and a palpable air of sorrow about the place. The kidney-shaped swimming pool looked neglected and somewhat pathetic with its uneven diving board, reminding me of 1970’s motels. We went through various other buildings which house his gold records and costumes and pieces of information on the career of The King, all of which carefully omit the epic creepiness of Col. Tom Parker, and gloss over the demise of his marriage to Priscilla. Hmm. Eight was so hot and tired that he opted to skip looking at Elvis’ car collection (What?! All paid for!) and we headed out after an hour or so of actual touring. All in all I’m glad I went, despite the long wait, extortionate pricing, and horrendously tacky memorabilia for sale in the multiple gift shops, but I left feeling so very sorry for this incredible talent who was so hideously exploited and controlled, his creativity stunted by the greed and short-sightedness of his manager,  to the point that he self destructed by the age of 42. I guess that’s the original rock-n-roll story. Also, how undignified to peg it on the bog? As my ex used to say (again and again to anyone who might laugh or at least pretend to), at least the King died on the throne

We returned to the hotel to see the famous procession of the ducks from their fountain back to their penthouse apartment. This was quite a spectacle and the lobby was rammed full of people. Then after a short rest we headed to Beale St to eat some BBQ and listen to the blues. We were not disappointed.

Firstly, there were dozens of classic cars on show lining the street.
I’m thinking of trading in my car for one of these:

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Then we ate some BBQ. Rather Eleven ate some BBQ. A full rack. All by herself.

Before:

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After:

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She didn’t bat an eyelid but the waitress was pretty impressed. Then we walked up and down Beale St. listening to music at various venues and stopped for a while at one in particular where a fabulous singer invited Eleven up to tell the audience where she was from. Usually she hides at this kind of attention but to my surprise she was game and chatted away. He found it quite hard to wrest the mike back, actually. I see a glimmer of a future performer in her here – a chip off the old bloquette?

This morning we went to the Civil Rights Museum. It’s really wonderful, though quite sobering and moving, particularly in light of last week’s massacre in Charleston. I was quite tearful through a lot of it, and also thought of my parents who fought so hard for the struggle against apartheid in South Africa during the 1960’s before they were exiled from their own country for so many years. Below is a photograph of the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. The museum is built into the former motel.

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It was with some sadness that I noted how few people there were touring this extraordinary museum compared to Graceland. It’s not that nobody was there, but it was noticeable that the huge crowds at Elvisworld were mostly white, happy to spend hundreds of dollars to see a little house and buy cheap plastic tat from China to commemorate one dead musician, but those folks weren’t here looking at what’s important today. As Elie Wiesel says, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”

Having said that, I do plan to have a peek at Sun Studios later today, and out for more blues and BBQ tonight before we head off to Nashville, home of country music, tomorrow.

By the way, in a way that combines equal rights and fair pay and music,  big props to Taylor Swift for single-handedly forcing Apple’s hand on the payment for streaming issue. That is one very smart, classy lady.

 

 

Bayou Country

It was a long, hot drive to Louisiana, and my first as the sole driver, but Eleven proved a masterful navigator and commander-of-phone and Eight remained cheerful and unsick in the back seat.

We left Austin in torrential rain which made for slow progress in the first hour, but that soon gave way to sunny skies and by mid morning we were negotiating the spaghetti junction of Houston’s highway bypass system and looking forward to reaching the state border a little later. Then we got a phone message from the sister of the owner of the bayou cottage we had rented for two nights in New Iberia. I had been looking forward to staying here as it’s right on the Bayou Teche and the property had once been owned by the grandfather of James Lee Burke (this author is much of the reason I’d been drawn to the town). It wasn’t going to be luxurious but it had a canoe we could use and a porch upon which to laze in the hot afternoon. Alas, it was not meant to be. It turned out the owner was on her deathbed and the cottage was to be used for visiting family. I felt terrible for her, and also slightly anxious that this was the second person in two days who had nearly pegged it as we approached (was it something we said?). As I was cruising along at 80mph when we discovered all this I had to have Eleven, usually rather useless in the arrangement making department, get on TripAdvisor and subsequently the telephone to make us a reservation at a hotel in New Iberia instead which was surprisingly tricky as almost all the decent places were booked. Our favourite McChain hotel, The Hampton Inn was sold out (!) so we ended up at a Holiday Inn Express in a King Suite which sounds much posher than it actually was, but it had a/c, a pool, and a free breakfast so we didn’t complain. Actually all things considered, it was SO FUCKING HOT I was rather glad we were in a corporate, air conditioned box with a pool rather than a quaint, non a/c cottage with a snake and gator infested river. The kids were desperate to cool off by the time and so was I.   so we had to scramble to find somewhere else to stay which proved more tricky than you’d think.  But I’m getting ahead of myself. To add to Eleven’s brilliance at booking a hotel room (and negotiating a AAAdiscount, no less) she found an AMAZING restaurant on roadfood.com: D I’s Cajun Restaurant,

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that was literally in the middle of nowhere, Louisiana,  for us to eat lunch. They were incredibly nice in there and could hardly believe that a) we’d found them and b) we’d never tried gumbo or fried frogs legs before. Actually we weren’t brave enough to eat the frogs legs but the gumbo was amazing.

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We arrived in New Iberia at about 3pm and immediately roared off for a tour of the Tabasco Factory

tabasco factory which is charming, and then to Jungle Island where we saw this guy

alligator, beautiful birds of all sorts, and the most heavenly trees.

I would have spent more time walking around if it wasn’t so BLOODY HOT. But it was. Brutally humid and boiling. One wilts as soon as one gets out the car.

We ate supper at a traditional Cajun restaurant that night with a band and a crawfish buffet which featured boiled crawdads and about a million fried things, each more delicious than the last. But looking at the other patrons I noted that it is not possible to stay a healthy size and eat this kind of food more than once in a very rare while.

The next day we toured the Koniko rice factory (fascinating),the Bayou Teche museum (also charming), took a little stroll down Main Street, and I do mean a little stroll because it was SO FUCKING HOT, and we stopped at an antique shop where we were given a most interesting lecture on early phonographs by an enthusiastic collector and I bought a vintage bamboo stair basket which is such a genius thing I can’t believe I’ve lived without one before.

Later on we went to the carwash (the fun never stops) and then on to see Inside Out (SO GOOD – we howled) and then to Duffy’s Diner where we ate more fried food and milkshakes. Ahh. I see new clothes in larger sizes coming my way.

The following morning we took a swamp tour in the bayou which is quite unlike anywhere I’ve ever seen before. So peaceful and beautiful with stunning birds, lotuses, trees steeped in water, and some more ‘gators (getting blasé about these). We also got  got VERY VERY HOT.

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After this we jumped in our car and headed off to New Orleans.

Here it is also VERY HOT, but we have consoled ourselves with beignets which are a sort of fried doughnut and cafe au lait, and listened to some wonderful jazz. We’ve also visited a cemetery and wandered through the French Quarter and eaten lunch in the Garden quarter and after a much needed cool-off in the a/c of our lovely hotel, we wandered off to Frenchmen St where we listened to more jazz, went to a night market and bought some jewellery, and came home to bed. Tomorrow we are hitting the road at 6am and heading for Memphis, Tennessee.

I’m going to Graceland.

 

All my Ex’s live in Texas

That’s not true, of course (would they fit?), and I’m borrowing the phrase from George Straight for those of you who aren’t familiar with the song,  but I love so much music that comes from this state that it feels true. Sort of.

We left Santa Fe two days and several centuries ago at dawn and, abandoning the SatNav for a good old fashioned paper map, took the beautiful back roads and old country lanes heading towards Lubbock, Texas, home of Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings, Joe Ely and many other notable good ol’ boys and gals. My dad and I had c0mpiled a Lubbock-bound playlist on Spotify, heavy on the Buddy Holly, and to our delight and amusement Eight loved the songs and commented that he particularly liked how Buddy could change the tone of his voice.

Our first stop was the Buddy Holly museum which is small but rather wonderful. There is a sculpture of a giant pair of spectacles outside upon which we posed for photos, and inside lots of Buddy information and memorabilia including a very interesting timeline of the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. I took some notes to pass on to my students next year. There were a few of Buddy’s guitars on display, interesting if you are a guitar nerd, but the one that intrigued me most was one that had been given as a personal gift by Buddy to a British friend and then donated back to the museum after his death.

That friend? Can you guess which ROCK ICON it was?

No. You’re wrong. Whatever you guessed. You’re wrong.

He gave it to Des O’Connor.

*slight slip of respect*

Anyway, after that we took a stroll down the Lubbock music wall of fame and posed for photos next to a huge statue of Buddy Holly.

Eight: He must have been REALLY REALLY TALL!

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We ate lunch at the next door restaurant, The Cast Iron Grill a local Lubbock favourite with smiley waitresses in cut off jeans shorts, tight pink t-shirts and cowboy boots. Its slogan was “Boots, pie, and chicken fry”.

After lunch we still had four hours driving to go until our planned overnight at the Hampton Inn in Abilene, Tx. We didn’t have anything in particular to do in Abilene, but we needed to stop and this hotel came up as the best option there. I have to say, we’ve stayed at a couple of these in the chain and actually they’re pretty good – reasonably priced, clean, comfy, free breakfast that the kids love, free food at happy hour, pools, fitness rooms, and guest laundry rooms. I rather like them, even if they do sit on the highways like giant McMansions.   We ate dinner at the fanciest place in Abilene which had steaks as big as my youngest child and various animals the owner had personally murdered on the walls.

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The next morning, we had planned to go and see some ancient native American cave drawings at Painted Rock. However, as we approached the property and called ahead to the owners of the farm on which the paintings dwell, the elderly lady who answered the phone told us we couldn’t come as she had to take her husband to the ER.   One of the things that travel always reminds me is that there are so many people on the planet, each of us living our lives, with our separate problems, dramas, feelings, passions, life events, etc. And none of us are actually that important in the grand scheme of things, yet each of us is so precious to the ones we love and life must be valued at every turn, even in the mundane and every day.

We drove on, reaching Austin, Texas by mid afternoon and checked into our downtown hotel. The kids had a swim, we ate a late BBQ lunch, and then headed out to Congress Avenue bridge to see the famous bats who shelter under the bridge to raise their young and take off at dusk in their thousands. It’s supposed to be amazing and unmissable and the children have been talking about it for weeks. We had miscalculated sunset and arrived much too early, spending nearly an hour hanging around the bridge waiting for the bats.

 

The bridge slowly filled with tourists waiting for the big event, though we were entertained by a man dressed in black with a bat on his hat (not a real one, obvs) and a batman t-shirt who had appointed himself an unofficial guide to the bats and kept banging on the railings and whistling at us (he was a deaf mute) to show us the best place to stand. He gave the children badges with ‘the batman of Austin’ on it and a card showing the alphabet in American Sign Language and we posed for photos with him.

IMG_0032 - Version 2Good thing he was there to entertain us because by the time the bats came out it was nearly dark and we could hardly see them. Also, as Eleven said disgustedly, they didn’t come out in a huge sheet as promised, but “they just fly around in circles like they don’t know where they’re going”.

Verdict: BATFAIL.

 

 

 

 

We consoled ourselves with another Texas sized meal at a lovely restaurant where I had a few glasses of prosecco, Eleven ate peanut butter mousse cake as her main course (protein! she said, not unreasonably) and Eight fell asleep in his chair.

The next morning my dad left us to go back to DC – he has a wedding to attend, and the children and I got into the car at 8am in torrential rain, heading for Louisiana on another long day’s drive.

Texas, it’s been real.

 

 

 

Four Corners, Santa Fe, and the Very Long Drive

Yesterday we traveled for twelve hours.

Twelve.

It was exhausting.

We left the lovely Rose Cottage at 6am with a packed breakfast (my golden rule of no-food-shall-ever-be-eaten-in-my-nice-new-car having lasted just over a month, so that’s quite good really) and set off towards Four Corners Monument because it is one of the places that Eleven has been desperate to see ever since we started planning this trip. Eight has not read any Harry Potter yet so we decided to listen to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (narrated wonderfully by Stephen Fry). It’s very long as an audio book and perfect for a journey like this one.

If you are not familiar with Four Corners, it is literally just a place in the middle of seemingly nowhere that the state lines of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado meet and it is on Navajo land. I can’t say it was somewhere I particularly wanted to see but it’s important that the kids had some say in the route and it wasn’t too far off the way to Santa Fe so off we went.

Driving from Kanab, the route took us past the Vermillion Cliffs, and on to long, straight roads with scrubby, dry bushes around and the odd farm here and there.

open roadBut along the route the scenery changed quite quickly becoming more hilly in places, greener in others and then, in Arizona again (how does it keep changing so mystifyingly?) back to dry and bare.

After about four hours we arrived at Four Corners.

The place itself seems pretty bleak; you turn off a smallish road on to a dirt track, pull up to a ticket booth where an extremely grumpy Navajo woman charges you $5 per person (free for the under sixes, but no dogs of any kind including service dogs so if you’re blind or deaf, tough luck). You can see a number of flags flying beyond a row of breeze block buildings and the day we arrived they were all at half mast due to the recent death of a Navajo person of some importance. The monument itself is literally a circle of flags around a concrete floor which has a compass written into it and a place where you can stand with your feet in all the four states.

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Enclosing the circle of flags are forty or so local Navajo vendors all selling jewellery, arrows, t-shirts, and other souvenirs. My dad bought Eight a knife made of buffalo rib – quite beautiful and absolutely lethal if one were to wish to stab open a letter, and Eleven a necklace with (predictably) a horse on it. The man who made the bone-knife told us he was also the local medicine man which was interesting. Could he cure wounds inflicted by his own weapons? Disappointingly the fry-bread stand was closed so we were denied the opportunity to buy something delicious that would also make us feel sick in the car minutes later, but you can’t have everything.  I wondered later if the dead person of importance was also the fry-bread baker although this might be a little farfetched.

We drove on for an hour or so, hoping to see the cave dwellings at Mesa Verde, but we didn’t quite realise that once we arrived at the parking lot, it was a further hour to drive to the dwellings and another hour back. Then we’d still have four hours to go until Santa Fe. By this time we’d been in the car for five hours so we decided, reluctantly to skip this sight and I will go back and look at it another time.

Over the next four hours, Harry, Hermione, Ron et al. got into various scrapes and thrilling escapades while we drove through the lush meadows and alpine hills of Colorado, and back into red rock and dusty scrub of New Mexico, and I was very, extremely glad to pull into our lovely hotel, The Drury, in a renovated old hospital in the heart of historic downtown Santa Fe.

The hotel itself is very pleasant, with extremely warm, friendly staff, big rooms with comfy beds, a pool, a hot tub, and an outdoor patio. Here is the view from there.

druryhotel

Included in the rate is breakfast and what they call ‘kickback’ which amounts to free drinks and hearty snacks from 5.30-7pm which was most welcome when we arrived at 6pm, starving hungry. In fact both nights we ended up not eating supper out but getting full at kickback’ and then treating ourselves to ice cream on a walk through town.

Santa Fe itself is very beautiful. We admired its lovely adobe buildings, pretty Mexican style square, much like the zocalos I remember from Merida or Oaxaca (only smaller) and it has a crazy number of art galleries. I’m sure in the non-touristy part of Santa Fe they have normal shops but I liked being a tourist in this part. Today we also walked down to the train depot which not only has trains still running, but museums, a lovely park with a play area for children, restaurants, a farmer’s market, and an old locomotive that you aren’t really supposed to climb on but I did anyway, scandalising my children and worrying them that I might be arrested.

I have few pictures of today because I forgot to charge my phone yesterday (DUH). I am hoping at some point to get some from my dad but until then you will have to make do with my paltry descriptions, hampered by tiredness and snoring small boys.  We leave tomorrow at 6am for Abilene Texas by way of Lubbock, where many of my favourite Texan musicians come from (Buddy Holly, Joe Ely, Lyle Lovett) and we have prepared an appropriate Lubbock playlist with said artists for the journey.

I’ll check in again in a couple of days.

On a totally random side note, we managed to watch the season finale of Game of Thrones tonight. Anyone else find it a bit meh?

Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon

*Warning – long post alert – it was a MEGA couple of days*

Eight had been complaining of feeling overly sleepy from the dramamine so we decided to risk not giving him one yesterday as an experiment. We left Death Valley at about 8am, stopping briefly to look out at Zabriskie Point of Antonioni movie fame. It is seriously weird and post-apocalyptic looking. Eight was thrilled by the oddness of the landscape and wanted to run out into the desert like a mad dervish but we stopped him, fearing we might never see him again.Zabriskie Point

 

 

 

 

 

 

We drove on for a couple of hours, out of California and into Nevada where Eight spotted a Dennys (what IS it with that child and that place?) and begged that we stop for breakfast. No sooner had we got inside the restaurant than he bolted to the loo and threw up. He did recover fairly swiftly and wolfed down a large plate of pancakes with a side of motion-sickness pill, but the lesson here is do not ever let him in the car undrugged again.

d lost his debit card which nearly sent him into the slough of despond, not least because when he phoned it in, the lady on the other end of the helpline, presumably in the Philippines somewhere kept asking him to identify himself via his debit card number and there was quite a lot of barely repressed shouting of
“I am trying to EXPLAIN that I LOST IT SO I DON’T HAVE THE NUMBER.. Yes. No. NO, I DO NOT HAVE THE DEBIT CARD NUMBER”.

This could have gone very badly wrong but my amazing new car came to the rescue by finding us a branch of his bank within a mile of our location and on our route, and within 30 minutes we had a physical replacement for the lost card and were back on the road. I love modern technology (the car and the bank. Woohoo!)

The next few hours were spent pleasurably listening to an audiobook of The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber. If you have children (or even if you don’t) I recommend this book for its delightful poetic language, dark humour and fantastical turn of event. It features an evil duke who likes to slit people from their guggle to their zatch. What’s not to like?

By 2pm we were at the approach of Zion National Park.

A short break here to boast of my UBER EFFICIENCY in having purchased in advance an America the Beautiful parks pass for $80 which entitles one, plus every person in one’s vehicle to free entry into all of the National Parks. Otherwise it’s generally around $25-$30 per park for a seven day pass so you can see why this is a good bargain if you’re going to visit more than a couple over the course of a year. They did ask for ID, interestingly, so you can’t just buy one and pass it around to all your friends. 

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I hadn’t particularly meant to go here, but it was sort of on the way and both Husband and Father had insisted it was worth seeing. I am SO glad we did.  We stopped and played with tadpoles in a stream on one side of the red mountains. The children got filthy and muddy (their favourite state) and even I poked around in the water with my bare toes.

zion mud

Then we got back in the car for a terrifyingly winding climb up the mountains. I’m not brilliant with heights and exposure and after a mile or two I had to hand the keys over to my dad and let him drive. I’m glad I did. The next thing we did was go through a mile long tunnel which is 4000 feet up in the mountain, but when we came out on the other side the scenery had changed subtly. Still the same red rocks and flat top mountains, but more green and gentle foliage around us, and then we saw these guys!

Goats!

Ooh, the excitement! I love goats. Unfortunately they weren’t nearly as interested in me as I was in then and soon pushed off. I feel this has happened to me quite often in life, though admittedly more often with attractive members of the opposite sex, but I digress..

We drove on to Kanab,  Utah to our rental cottage (we stayed in The Rose Cottage) which was quite charming and much better than I had hoped it would be. Three bedrooms, a fully stocked kitchen, a cosy living room with fireplace, and a back yard with a gas bbq. And it had its own laundry room with laundry powder already there. You have no idea how much I loved that part. I spend a stupid amount of time worrying about how to get clothes clean. I HATE having dirty clothes and hair. It’s on the point of obsessive.  Dad took the children to the hotel pool around the corner and I bought food for supper which we ate looking at the red mountains in the distance from the patio. It was blissful.

The next morning we got up early and headed for the north rim of The Grand Canyon. This part is far less populated than the heavily touristy South Rim as there is hardly any accommodation nearby (thus our 2 hour drive from Kanab). The only lodge at the North Rim gets booked up a year or so in advance by people more together in their planning than me.  I have to say I never had much desire to visit The Grand Canyon (hereafter referred to as TGC). I’d seen photos. Ok. Big crevasse, I get it. I’m scared of heights. I don’t like to be too hot. I loathe crowds. I don’t like to commit to too much time in a place that’s hard to leave or is far from a decent cup of tea (!) So again, I hadn’t particularly planned on this being part of my cross country trip but I felt a bit guilty at sort of passing by and not showing it to the children.  Turns out that guilt was a good impulse. It’s completely amazing. I don’t think I quite took in that the layers of rock that make up the edges (is that the right word) of the canyon represent literally millions and millions of years and totally different eras of our planet.

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Unlike the way we tend to regard America as a country – new, hilariously short-historied as opposed to Europe, full of plastic toys and cartoon mice etc, this was so ancient, so awe-inspiringly mighty, that I felt quite humble and worshipful in a pagan, nature-loving sort of way. Does this sound mad? Perhaps. It’s late and I’ve done quite a lot besides hiking uphill at 8000 feet elevation including laundry and making multiple sandwiches.

We are back in Kanab tonight but tomorrow at 5am we leave for Santa Fe, New Mexico by way of Four Corners (thank you, Eleven, for this obsession) and Mesa Verde. This means nearly nine hours in the car so a long day ahead of us. I’ll check in in a few days. Feel free to say hello in the comments.

Into the Valley of Death

Day 1: Death Valley

We left home at 6.30am with the car packed full and a trusty travel mug of tea at my side. My father had arrived the night before from a work trip in Seattle and was all ready to take the first part of the journey with me and the children. The outside temperature was 60 degrees fahrenheit.

I gave Eight a precautionary dramamine which sent him back to sleep almost immediately and Eleven sat quietly in the back, probably in shock from having to get up so early. Dad and I chatted companionably and we made good time getting out of Santa Barbara and into the inland of California. The time sped by as the scenery changed. The landscape became flatter, more agricultural and less pretty, and we passed a lot of ugly strip malls and dull highways. After about 3 hours driving we hit the small town of Mojave, (I say town, but really it’s a strip of road with a few commercial establishments and a railroad station) . By this time everyone was quite hungry so we stopped for breakfast. We looked for somewhere local but were intimidated by the blackened windows and empty parking lots of El Jefe  and thwarted by the distinctly closed look of The Desert Inn, so ended up at Denny’s which had a reassuringly familiar menu and clean bathrooms. I can’t believe how many pancakes my children can pack down their small gullets!

As we left the parking lot we spotted an Army and Navy store which we couldn’t resist having a poke into. It was like military surplus vintage heaven. All sorts of uniforms from all eras and areas, including a vintage Bobby’s hat (how did that get here?) and a WWII machine gun (not for sale). Eight bought an army cap to replace the one his aunt’s boyfriend, who is a proper soldier, had given him and that he had tearfully lost on a field trip, and was only narrowly dissuaded from spending all of his savings on an axe (I have decided not to think through the implications of this particular desire).   Intriguingly, the pink haired lady behind the counter old us she used to live in London. I wondered how she reconciled that with living in Mojave, town of two dusty streets.

We set off again after filling the car and drove through Red Rock canyon which was quite beautiful and extraordinary but by the time I thought of taking a picture we were past it. This happens to me a lot. Consider it a MIRACLE that I have taken any photos at all.  By this point we were quite high up, an elevation of 3000ft, though I hadn’t noticed a significant climb, but from here on the road got steeper. We went up and up to 4000ft quite quickly and stopped at an overlook with a spectacular view. Here we met some Harley-riding septuagenarians  who engaged my father in an enthusiastic conversation about obscure 70’s rock bands. I observed with interest, that no matter your culture  or creed, the music of your youth unites you with your peers and this does not fade with time.

From this point (see picture to the right)  the road grew windy and steep going down and within 20 minutes we had dropped to below sea level and there was nothing green to be seen. Eight woke up from his second dramamine induced nap of the day and announced that Death Valley was the lowest point in North America. The things he knows!

We pulled into the lovely Furnace Creek Resort at 2pm and checked into our rooms which were thankfully air conditioned. Outside it was 113 degrees. Ugh. After eating lunch in the restaurant where, to our astonishment, we met a waiter who had lived for two years in a street literally around the corner from where my family lived when I was in nursery school, my dad took the kids to the pool while I sank into a much needed deep sleep for a couple of hours. I love naps.

When I woke up we drove another 17 miles to Badwater which is literally the lowest point in North America.

It’s a dried up salt lick. You are walking on salt and other minerals and it is strangely beautiful and weird.   On the way, we passed a young coyote who was hanging out at the side of the road, looking like he wanted to hitch a ride. Cute, but dangerous (this is how I like to think of myself, too..)

 

We came back, had some drinks on our balcony, another swim and a late supper in the restaurant. We were all too tired for more than a quick look at the incredible night sky before we sank gratefully into our beds.

It’s been an amazing first day of the trip and I’m definitely ready for my beddy-byes. More in a day or two when we move on to Utah

Preparation

We leave at dawn on Friday. Nobody except me is glad about the hour of departure but I love getting up early to make long drives and getting a good three hours in before stopping for breakfast. I’ve started to pack clothes for myself and the children, trying to strike the right balance between packing light and not having to wash out the same pair of knickers and t shirt every night, and I’ve acquired a number of essential items (at least that’s what I told myself whilst gleefully pressing ‘One Click Order’ on Amazon) to ensure road-tripping is a pleasant and streamlined experience. In as much as it can be with a tween, an eight year old boy and blistering heat. Here is what I have so far:

A travel kettle (this is America. They NEVER have them in hotels)

A teapot and teabags

A cooler for the car that runs on 12v power and has an adaptor to work on A/C

A mini clothes line you can string up anywhere

A bottle of bourbon for my dad

A first aid kit

Bottles of drinking water (driving through the desert!)

A roll each of loo paper and kitchen towel

Wet wipes

A thermos, for tea. (notice a theme?)

Every kind of pill for every kind of conceivable ailment. Just in case.

An inflatable mattress and sleeping bag for when we just don’t want to share a bed with one of the kids.

 

I will report on the usefuless of toting these items with us as I go. If you have any essentials to suggest, please do!
I’ll check in again once we’re on the road