May 30, 2010 – It seems I can’t linger a year in one place before I start getting itchy feet. It wasn’t even a year ago that I embarked on an aimless trip to satisfy the wanderlust in me. Now I’m at it again. (There are a lot of photographs in here, so it may take a while to load. Also, some may find this as boring as watching someone’s slide show of their vacation. Oh well, it’s free.)
By The Cerebral Aesthetic Vagabond
I hurriedly pulled together the items I wanted to take on my trip, the duration of which was as unknown to me as the places it would take me. Sure, it was ostensibly a “house hunting” trip, but my heart wasn’t really in the mood to buy a house, let alone move into it, furnish it and start making repairs to the house and yard. Been there, done that!
Since I’m kind of obsessive about changing the oil in the car frequently and since my trip might be a long one, I decided to get an oil change on my way out of town. I managed to arrive at the automotive shop at the appointed time and everything seemed to be going smoothly, that is, until the technician informed me that one of my car’s CV boots was cracked and leaking grease. They could fix it, but it would take up to a couple of hours and cost about $300. Reluctantly, for I didn’t want to part with that sum of money now that I’m funemployed again, nor did I wish to waste a couple of extra hours sitting in the automotive shop, I told them to go ahead and make the repair. Fortunately, they did the job in less time and at lower cost than they estimated, but it was still an inauspicious first day of my trip.
Except for passing through Las Vegas last year, when the only thing worse than the 123 degree temperature was the glacially-moving crowds of people, I haven’t been here in years. I don’t even remember how long it’s been since I stayed here. I first came to this place on my own – sans parents – in the early 1980s. At that time it was a pretty dismal place by day, although mildly interesting at night. By the late 1990s the place had transformed itself into an adult fantasy land, featuring huge, themed resort hotels, some good restaurants and some good shows. It was fun to simply walk around and marvel at the contrived ambiance of these immense resorts.
One of my favorites was probably the last of the themed hotels, the chronically struggling and now erstwhile Aladdin, which used to have a luscious waterfall outside and periodic rainstorms inside its shopping mall. It was cool, dark and inviting on hot days here in the desert. Alas, it has finally succumbed and has been remodeled into something soulless and hurtful to the eyes.
The late 1990s was when the businesses in this town began to realize that people would pay good money – and lots of it – for what used to be free or inexpensive lures to hook gamblers: hotel accommodations, food, drink and entertainment. Between the 1980s and the present, I believe the revenue from gambling dropped from about two-thirds to about one-third of the total. They have really mastered the art of parting fools and their money here. Nowadays, everything costs money, tons of it. I’m surprised the hotels don’t charge separately for room towels, soap and toilet paper, but that’s probably coming.
If there’s a depression going on in this country, one wouldn’t know it by looking at the businesses in Las Vegas, which seem to be thriving and teeming with people as much as ever, at least on “the strip.” Most surprisingly, there is no discernible discounting going on. Quite the opposite, prices seem to climb relentlessly higher. If we’re in a deflationary depression, I’m still looking forward to the deflationary part.
During the late housing bubble of the 2000s, developers got the wild idea that Las Vegas’ strip could be transformed into a cultured metropolis where people would not only find entertainment, but where they would live, in high-rise condominiums still on the drawing table. In the midst of bubble mania such condo units would have waiting lists before ground was even broken. I don’t know what became of those eager buyers, but the projects still appear to be on track and in the final stages of completion, unfortunately.
Las Vegas – 1990s architecture compared to that of today
Las Vegas has always been an ugly town. Whereas in the past the garish ugliness was almost tongue-in-cheek, at least it was colorful and amusing. Today it’s a deadly serious ugliness, or should I say, a sterile ugliness. Take a look at the above photo and notice the difference between the phony, old world, Mediterranean charm of a hotel from the 1990s and today’s cold, sterile, stainless steel concoction built right next door. Bear in mind that these lifeless stainless steel towers are not office buildings, but intended to be homes for people to live in. Yikes! The planter box that serves as a prison for a couple of lonely pine trees is made of stainless steel. Even the border around another meager planter box beside a doorway – one wonders why they even bothered – is made of aluminum. Despite its phoniness, at least the Mediterranean-style hotel fits into the desert landscape in which it resides, which is a lot more than I can say for its metallic next door neighbor, which I suppose might look attractive somewhere – the Moon, perhaps.
Here’s a closer photo of this hodgepodge of crooked metal boxes. Yes, they really are crooked and many of the architectural elements, such as the facade, are asymmetrical. I guess the builders were told to leave their levels and tape measures at home for this project. Honestly, they’d have to pay me to live here!
Yep, those towers are crooked
So it was fitting that while I was attempting to capture this hideous monstrosity in all its brutal ugliness I was approached by a couple of blokes wearing spiffy white shirts. “These are dangerous times,” one of them said as he cautiously sauntered up to me, which immediately brought to mind that supposed Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” We are certainly living in interesting times, in which innocently taking photographs of an ugly building won’t merely induce blindness, but will garner the attention of security people. As if! Even terrorists have too much class to target this town. Anyway, these security dudes were civil enough as they examined my photographs, took down my name and reported back to “headquarters” via their radios that I was being very cooperative. Fortunately, I was in a pretty good mood, so I just let them have their fun without giving them a hard time. Nevertheless, it sort of soured the day. I was going to look at houses for sale here, but between the ugly new construction and the security encounter I’m not so sure ... That doesn’t trouble me since Las Vegas was at the bottom of my list of potential places in which to buy a house, Kentucky being at the top.
I spent the day driving around looking at houses, but didn’t see much to my liking. I did see one house I liked in the “Mexican” part of town, North Las Vegas, and were I just looking for a place to live, it would probably be ideal. As I was admiring the house from the sidewalk, one of the neighbors came over and chatted with me at length. He was very friendly and the neighborhood was peaceful and pleasant. I would not hesitate to live there, although most people I know, most of whom are pretty closed-minded, would reject it out of hand. However, for someone looking for a decent house in a major city, with a good climate, in a state with no income tax and for a price of just $35,000, North Las Vegas is quite appealing, even if it does bear a remarkable resemblance to parts of Los Angeles.
Much as I liked that house, however, I’m not merely looking for a place to live, but also a place to grow food and work a trade of making furniture, and the lots here are simply too small to do all that, not to mention that this locale of Nevada is not exactly the best for growing food, being that it’s friggin’ desert. In the dozens of days I’ve spent visiting this town over the years I don’t think I’ve ever once seen it rain! Besides, I’ve had my fill of city living and much prefer the serenity and naturalness of rural living.
I saw a most incongruous scene while driving around in what I assume is the “black” part of town, West Las Vegas. A police car, its lights flashing, was stopped behind another car, the officer presumably issuing a ticket. Meanwhile, behind the police car, this boy was running from window to window of an apartment building and shattering them with some tool! In the few seconds it took me to drive by, I witnessed the boy shatter, seemingly in slow motion, at least four windows. It was the sort of disjointed scene one might see in a surreal movie, but it was real. Imagine what would happen to our society should food, liquor, cigarettes or gasoline become scarce.
North of Las Vegas, Nevada
As I left Las Vegas this morning I wasn’t sure if I was resuming my trip as an aimless pleasure trip or a trip with a purpose, to find a house to buy. Since I had to check out of my hotel, I instinctively headed “north,” to points unknown, Utah vaguely. I had looked at houses in Utah a couple of times before and even made an offer on one that was accepted by the owner. I then had to back out of the deal because I found a house more to my liking in Kentucky. So I headed back to Utah, hoping that a nice house would miraculously fall out of the sky and into my lap (not on my head as in The Wizard of Oz; I always did fancy being that green witch, though), enabling me to continue on my trip relieved of my self-imposed duty to find a house.
Along the way I drove through the northwestern tip of Arizona, a place through which runs the Virgin River, the name “virgin” seemingly a misnomer for the muddy brown river. Nevertheless, the landscape is magnificent up here, comprised of vast, soaring, colorful mesas and clear evidence of massive movement of the earth’s crust.
Virgin River region of Arizona
Shortly after passing these grand vistas, with many more to follow, I stopped for the night. I didn’t get far today, mostly for want of an objective.
After browsing the house listings on the internet, I decided to mosey on up toward Pueblo, Colorado, which seems to be a relatively inexpensive locale for houses, and especially those with large parcels of land. Of course, one of my uncles bought a property with a large parcel of land in that region and encountered no end of restrictions on what he could do with his property.
Favoring the small, out of the way highways, the routes people used to take before the interstate highway system was created, I continued to head northeast. Little did I realize that the magnificent scenery I was passing, like this, was but an appetizer to the famous Zion National Park.
Precursor to Zion National Park in Utah
I have to say, it was mighty difficult to take good photographs today, what with chemtrails crisscrossing the sky. I’ve seldom seen heavier spraying than I did today, and over the middle of friggin’ nowhere. The sun assumed a characteristic yellow pallor as it shone through the chemtrail “clouds.” Nevertheless, I did the best I could with the photographs under the circumstances.
I assumed I could just drive through Zion on my way to Colorado, but I should have known there would be a fee, and what a fee it was, a whopping $25. Seems like every time one turns around these days there’s another fee. I guess all the taxes we pay are only for servicing the pensions of government employees. Actual government-provided services, like parks, must be paid for separately on top of the taxes!
On my first approach to the park I actually made a u-turn on account of the fee. After a beer and a burger I decided the suffer the fee since that was the most direct route to my destination and since I might never have the opportunity to see this park again. After all, I had never seen it before, except perhaps as a child before my own recorded history. So I paid the hefty fee and entered the park with high hopes of seeing some magnificent scenery. Sorry to say, the park is a big disappointment!
Some nice scenery inside Zion National Park
After paying such a hefty entrance fee, one might expect to see some pretty spectacular scenery. On a scale from one to ten, I’d give Zion a six. One might also expect to be able to stop from time to time and take in the scenery, but unfortunately, most of the route is a narrow highway with no place to pull over. There are few places where one can stop and enjoy the scenery and many of them are occupied by parked automobiles! It didn’t seem as though there were many visitors streaming into the park, and yet a sign outside the park warned that there was no parking available inside the park. The reason why that was the case is that there are very few places to park inside the park. And finally, the place seems rather small. I drove through it – there wasn’t much else I could do – in about an hour.
By comparison – I admit I’m a little biased, being a California native – Yosemite National Park is at least a nine on my scale, it is immense, it has plenty of places to park, there are tons of trails to hike on, it’s gushing with rivers and waterfalls, and it costs $20 to enter (at least, it did a year ago).
Sandstone makes up much of Zion and accounts for some of the rich colors
The thing that impressed me the most about Zion was not the vistas, few of which took my breath away, but the display of the earth’s crust, as if one had peeled back the earth’s skin to expose its many subcutaneous layers. In addition, these exposed layers often erupt from the ground at odd angles, a testament to the enormous pressures being exerted on the earth’s crust. It’s fascinating to observe the different colored layers of earth. Not being a geologist, I cannot even begin to interpret the different layers. Was that layer an ocean? Was that one a lush forest? Was that one a desert? I couldn’t say. The abundant sandstone formations, like the one above, are also fascinating, abraded, gouged and sculpted into fantastic shapes by countless centuries of wind.
After I exited the eastern side of Zion National Park and reentered Arizona, there were more surprises, such as the Glen Canyon Dam. I’ve always been awed by massive projects like dams, even though I have mixed feelings about them. On the one hand, I hate to see nature disturbed by man, and damming up a river is a mighty big disturbance. On the other hand, such feats of engineering are awe inspiring.
Glen Canyon Bridge, as seen from the Glen Canyon Dam. It’s 700 feet from the bridge roadway down to the Colorado River below. The little blue boats in the photo are for people to take down river. There’s a company in Page that takes people down river on these boats and then drives them back.
To build this dam, they first built the town of Page, Arizona in 1957. Then they built the bridge shown above. (All of the parts of the bridge were fabricated in San Francisco and shipped to the site for assembly. It’s hard to believe that San Francisco was once a major industrial city.) Then they bored two huge tunnels to redirect the river around the dam while it was being constructed. And finally, in 1960 they started pouring the five-million cubic yards of concrete for the dam, a project that took at least three years.
I couldn’t resist taking the tour into the dam, which takes one some 600 feet down to the generator room. I once took such a tour of the Hoover Dam and to tell the truth, once you’ve seen one dam, you’ve seen ‘em all! Nevertheless, it was still enjoyable and I learned a few things on this tour. For instance, the Glen Canyon Dam actually flexes up to a couple of inches depending on the amount of water pressing up against it. That is astounding considering that the nearly solid concrete dam is at least a couple of hundred feet thick at its base. I also learned that the magnets used in the electrical generators aren’t permanent magnets, but electromagnets. Thus, by varying the current feeding the electromagnets, the strength of their magnetic field can be adjusted, and therefore, so can the output of the electrical generator.
Quite honestly, the Glen Canyon Dam was far more enjoyable than Zion National Park and the dam tour cost only $5! One day during this trip I’m actually going to call a real estate agent and look at some houses, but for the moment I’m having too much fun doing other things.
My dilly-dallying has finally caught up with me, though. This part of the country is vast and undeveloped. If one is not careful they can easily find their self having to drive 100 miles or more to find a motel room for the night (at the price they’re willing to pay if they’re a cheapskate like me), which is nearly the situation I found myself in tonight. Usually by three or four in the afternoon I look for an opportune place to stop for the night, but today for some reason I pressed on. By eight o’clock I was still looking for some place to spend the night and mentally preparing myself to sleep in the car, which wouldn’t have been all that bad if only there were a place to actually park the car! The trouble is that out here the highways are narrow and the only roads connected to the highways are private ones. There are very few places where one can pull far off the highway to sleep.
Tonight I ended up in this solitary motel in the middle of the Navajo Nation and felt fortunate. Nevertheless, these guys really ought to study under their casino-operating cousins to gain some insight into how to run a hospitality business. Creepy doesn’t even begin to describe this place. When I pulled up, there was a trio of stray dogs sniffing about the dirt parking lot. No problem, ’cause I like dogs. I also got over the fact that the motel “office” and the cash register desk for the adjoining restaurant were one and the same. In order to get a room for the night I had to wait in line behind a couple of restaurant patrons paying their dinner bill. Being that this is the only motel for many miles around, the price was considerably higher than I would have liked, in fact, it was the highest of my trip so far.
The first room I was given was in this queer building that looked like some kind of enormous barn that had been carved up into “rooms.” It was so gross and creepy I actually asked the girl in the office for a different room. The alternate room I she gave me was a bit more conventional, except for the massive sink-stove-refrigerator console plunked askew beside the door. And I gave up trying to open the windows for ventilation because they were on the verge of falling out. One of them actually had a piece of wood wedged against it, ostensibly for security, but its main function seemed to be to prevent the window from falling out. The faux wood paneling inside gave the room a classic trailer park ambiance, and the obligatory Native American paintings adorning the walls would not have been diminished in the slightest had they been painted on velvet. But I have stayed in worse accommodations, both here and abroad. I once stayed in a place in Switzerland that had five foot ceilings, no exaggeration. Unfortunately, I was quite a bit taller than five feet.
I was eager to put some distance between me and that creepy hotel as I headed through the northeastern tip of Arizona. It was a pleasant, scenic journey, greatly enhanced by my encounter with a stray dog that seemed smart as a whip. He trotted across the highway when I stopped to take a photo of some interesting sandstone formations.
Arizona sandstone formations
The little dog was so polite I gave him a couple of pieces of beef jerky and he trotted alongside me as I walked to the sandstone formations. When I stopped and turned around the dog immediately ran back to my car several hundred yards away and patiently waited for me, so I gave him another piece of jerky and then said goodbye. I would love to have taken the little guy home, but since I don’t have a home, that wouldn’t have been possible. Had I taken him to my parents’ house, I’m sure my dad – hardly a dog lover, or animal lover, or plant lover, or nature lover, or people lover – would have had a coronary. So I bid the little guy farewell and watched closely as he made it safely back across the highway while I drove off.
I made it only as far as Pagosa Springs, Colorado today. It’s a lovely little place nestled in the mountains. Unfortunately, it has a terminal case of yuppyitis, with expensive resort homes popping up all over the “new” part of town, which lies to the west. The “old” part of town is a little more down to earth, but has still been infected by the resort effect emanating from the new part of town.
What I cannot get over is that every other business in this town seems to be closed for good and yet real estate prices remain stubbornly high. Weird. Equally mystifying is that some of the motels, when I balk at their high rates, would rather let me turn ’round and walk out the door than accept the price I’m willing to pay. Not being in the motel business, perhaps my understanding is amiss, but I would think that any amount of money is better than none, especially when the motel is nearly empty and likely to remain so.
While this is a beautiful part of the state, with delicious mountain water, the house prices are several times what I’m willing to pay, so tomorrow I’ll be moving on.
I’ve been driving along U.S. Highway 160 for the last couple of days and it’s truly a beautiful drive. This must have been what it was like to travel cross country – driving along narrow highways, through interesting small town after town – before the boring interstate highways were built.
I remember driving along one such highway in Texas and seeing, virtually in the middle of nowhere, this immense, magnificent “skyscraper” of a hotel, named the Baker Hotel that looked so out of place on the flat plains. The town is Mineral Wells, and it became somewhat of a haven – a fad, sort of – back in the 1920s because of its “therapeutic” natural mineral springs. As all fads go, this one’s parabolic blow off was memorialized by the construction of this lavish hotel that would have looked more at home in Chicago than on the desolate Texas plains. Unsurprisingly, following the bust of the mineral water fad the hotel struggled to survive and eventually was boarded up. Today it stands like a haunting hulk, so very inviting to urban spelunkers like me who would die to go inside to see history frozen in time. The point is that one doesn’t get to see such amazing treats on the interstate highways, which is why driving through Colorado along Highway 160 is such a feast for the eyes.
Colorado, U.S. Highway 160, east of Pagosa Springs
The drive from Pagosa Springs to Alamosa, where I stopped for the night, is especially beautiful, featuring soaring mountain peaks, steep grades, plenty of rushing water and even semi-permanent snow cover in places. The only mar on an otherwise beautiful day was the heavy chemtrail spraying over Alamosa and the surrounding region. If I were God, I would show no mercy to all the people responsible for this heinous crime against humanity and nature.
Note to self: it’s difficult to write coherently after three pints of beer. Tonight found me where last night found me: in this great little brewery-restaurant. The food is mediocre, but the beer brewed on the premises is pretty good, especially the beer with green chile in it. It sounded gross to me too last night and I wouldn’t consider trying it then, but tonight the gregarious barmaid offered me a sample and I was hooked. After the normal brewing process they infuse the beer with green chiles, which gives it a most unusual spiciness and zest, sort of like drinking beer with chips and salsa. My “neighbor” at the bar was equally suspicious of the brew, but after a sample he was hooked like me, and like me ordered two more.
I liked that guy, mainly because he had an anti-authoritarian aura like me that seems to attract the unwelcome attention of “law enforcement” types. We chatted at length and he really made me feel welcome in this part of southern Colorado, known as the San Luis Valley.
I’ve been here for a couple of days and really like the area. It’s flat and open and exceptionally windy, although the locals swear that the gale force winds right now are unusual. It’s at an elevation of nearly 8,000 feet and yet the mountains still tower overhead by another 6,000 feet! There are several mountains around here the locals refer to as the “14s,” meaning they are over 14,000 feet high. The appeal of hiking up them, which lots of people do, is almost reason enough for me to settle here.
Plus, I even found a couple of potential “spreads,” both five acres in size that are within my price range, with caveats. One house is only half finished on the inside, and although the materials to finish the house are included, I’m not sure I’m up to the task. I have a tendency to start projects and never actually finish them, so I’m thinking that an unfinished house in my hands would forever remain unfinished. The other place seems ideal for my needs: it has a huge workshop, which would be great for making furniture; it has solar and wind powered electricity (in fact, it’s not even connected to the electrical grid); it has a well and septic system and a wood burning stove for heat. It’s pretty close to self-sufficient, which appeals to me greatly. The gotcha is that the property is barely distinguishable from a junkyard, littered as it is with various kinds of broken equipment, dead vehicles and at least five mobile homes in various states of disintegration, none of them habitable or usable even for storage. The workshop and house are full of stuff, which I doubt the owner is up to removing, and the inside of the house needs a complete rework of the walls and floors, at least. In other words, the place needs a lot of work. Of course, the price is low.
The friendliness of the locals is certainly a compelling reason to consider living here. The people here also take a lot of pride in their heritage. The kind real estate lady I met today told me that she hiked up to the top of the nearest “14” mountain and actually found the signature of her grandfather (or was it her great-grandfather?) in the log book at the top. Incredibly, the log books at the top of the mountain date back as far as a century and nobody has seen fit to steal them, as if they are sacred. Then my bar buddy told me about a place nearby that was homesteaded by his ancestors. Having been a nomad all my life, it’s hard to grasp such permanence, but it’s appealing nonetheless.
Although I like this area, it has some drawbacks. For one, the soil and climate are not very suitable for growing crops, at least on the properties I looked at. The locals keep telling me that potatoes grow well here. I suppose one could live on potatoes, if necessary. For another, the prices, despite the tragic number of closed businesses, are stubbornly high. By comparison, the prices in Arkansas and Kentucky, where I’m headed, are about half what they are here and the soil and climate are far superior for growing crops.
The day didn’t turn out as I expected. Fleeing another early morning chemtrail attack over the San Luis Valley, I headed for Pueblo, Colorado, with the intention of looking at a couple of houses in that area. After speaking with the real estate agents representing each property, however, I decided not to bother. Both houses sounded like they needed too much work, which wouldn’t be objectionable if the prices were low enough to begin with, but they aren’t. I never really had a lot of hope for finding a place in Colorado, although it would be kind of nice to live here since I have an uncle and a sister here. So I’ll probably be moseying on down to Arkansas next, perhaps after a visit with my sister and uncle. In the meantime, it seemed like a good opportunity to catch up on eight days’ worth of laundry.
Electing to defer visiting my family since they are in the wrong direction and I’m eager to get to Arkansas, I headed east, careful to avoid Kansas (“Arkansas” minus “Ar”). Some years ago I got pulled over by an overzealous Kansas trooper who thought I didn’t display enough courtesy while he was parked along the roadway, which was ironic since I made an effort to be courteous. Despite not getting a ticket from the trooper, the experience, plus the toll Kansas imposes on the interstate highway, plus the dour ambiance of the place left a bad taste in my mouth. It could be years before I go back there, if ever.
U.S. Highway 287 in southeastern Colorado
After days of driving up, down, between and through mountains, the drive south from Pueblo was a striking contrast, consisting of increasingly flat, featureless and desolate landscapes, as shown above, which is a far cry from the landscape people usually associate with Colorado.
Solitary and curious rock formations along U.S. Highway 287 in Colorado (they look like giant cow pies to me)
Although the landscape of southeastern Colorado is pretty featureless, there was this isolated, unique sandstone (?) rock formation at a rest stop. (The “haziness” in the sky in both photos above is due to chemtrail saturation.)
In order to avoid Kansas, which is due east of Colorado, I decided to drive east along the Oklahoma panhandle, which is an area I don’t think I’ve ever been before.
U.S. Highway 64 in northwestern Oklahoma
I really enjoy driving along these lonely, desolate highways, for both aesthetic and practical reasons. It’s like going back to a time before the impatient, boring interstate highways, and the exceedingly light traffic gives one a sense of what it was like long ago when the population was so much lower. (I stopped on highway 287 in Colorado for an entire minute and nobody passed me in either direction.) The feeling of going back in time is enhanced by driving through the main streets of numerous small towns, some of which contain gorgeous old buildings, as well as some decrepit ones that have seen better days.
Decrepit old house in Oklahoma (please pardon my fetish for decrepitude)
Practically speaking, the old highways are not much less efficient than the interstate highways. Both of the highways I drove on today were straight as an arrow and the speed limit was the same as on the interstates, at least as far as I am concerned, since I drive slower than both limits. However, the light traffic on the old highways made them considerably more pleasant to drive on than the interstates. And finally, for those of us who seem to be magnets for overbearing authority figures, the cops seem to shun the old highways in favor of the interstates, which team with a lot more prey.
The decrepit old barn that goes with the house above
Sadly, although I hoped to escape the relentless chemtrail attacks occurring in Colorado, the same is occurring in Oklahoma. They seem to be pulling out all the stops of late.
Today I merely continued driving through Oklahoma – I sure am slow. The landscape consists of rolling hills and surprisingly green fields, which, combined with the wet fog, made for an enchanting drive.
Just a pile of refuse
I began the day meandering along the lonely highways of Oklahoma again, but even I can only take so much leisure! About midday I headed to the interstate to get to Arkansas swiftly, but not before capturing some pleasant photographs of Oklahoma’s farm country.
Bucolic Oklahoma farmland. Those cows sure look content. I wouldn’t mind having some cows as pets, and for milk.
Arriving in Arkansas was disappointing. First, upon crossing the border from Oklahoma into Arkansas I was “welcomed” by no less than seven or eight warning signs, all intimating dire consequences for violating various Arkansas laws. Then as I approached Pine Bluff I was greeted by a “local” who thought that the best way to pass a truck which was passing me in the left lane was to tailgate me (in the right lane) in a most threatening and reckless fashion. His black Cadillac Escalade, with its flashy, oversized, chrome-plated wheels, and “24"” inscribed on the wheel well, combined with his hostile driving style gave me a hint as to the character of the town I was approaching, a hint that was immediately confirmed upon my arrival. Having discovered why Pine Bluff has such inexpensive real estate, my interest in living here is greatly diminished. I probably won’t even bother to look at any of the houses on my long list.
Tired of driving, I searched for a cheap motel. Upon finding one, the girl at the motel asked to photocopy my driver’s license because I was paying for the room with cash. I’ve spent eleven nights in motels and hotels during this trip, have paid for them all with cash, and not once has anyone demanded to make a copy of my driver’s license. Hello?! Has anyone ever heard of identity theft? Are they going to keep the copy of my driver’s license secure? Are they going to destroy it thoroughly? Doubtful. More than likely they’ll keep the copies in a file cabinet where any employee can access them, and then when the file cabinet is full they’ll dump its contents in the trash. The girl even volunteered that a former employee had stolen the credit card numbers of guests! Paradoxically, people paying with credit cards are not subjected to such treatment, as if to send a message that people who use cash are suspicious, while those who use electronic money that can be monitored by the “authorities” are servile, good citizens. Fortunately, the girl was a “good ol’ gal” and wasn’t fastidious about following the “rules,” especially after I pointed out sound reasons for not doing so, so she gave me the room without photocopying my driver’s license. I imagine she committed a felony, for chrissake, so her name and the name of the motel shall remain my secret to the grave.
The final introduction to this area was dining in a restaurant that’s apparently popular with the local police. Clad in their combat boots and other gear, they looked prepared for the battlefield. To bad the only potential “enemies” in the vicinity are American citizens.
Arkansas is a beautiful state, to be sure, however, I get the sense that if any state is prepared for the new world order of totalitarian dictatorship, this one is (as are California, New York, Illinois and a few others).
I had a smile on my face as I headed north through Tennessee toward Kentucky. It felt good to be back in this area. Colorado is beautiful and mountainous, Arkansas is beautiful and forested, but Kentucky, and to a lesser extent Tennessee feel like home.
After departing Arkansas this morning, I drove over 250 miles (over four hours) non-stop to get here, so eager was I. The first thing I did was head to the old “hood.” Mostly I was looking for my little friend, a dog named Boo Boo, but I didn’t see her. Maybe tomorrow. Oddly enough, upon seeing my old house, I didn’t feel any regret about selling it. I really loved that house, but I’ve moved on, mentally speaking. Now it’s somebody else’s house.
One thing that surprises me is that the town has never looked spiffier than it does today. It’s as if what I’ve long anticipated, a migration back to small towns has begun. Five years ago there were tons of houses for sale, many were vacant and the town was generally in disrepair. Today almost all the houses are occupied and well kept, there are few houses for sale and there are even new businesses that seem to be thriving.
I spent the day with my real estate agent (whom I consider a friend) looking at houses. In some cases the houses actually looked better in person than in photographs, but in others it was the usual case of the photographs not revealing all the ugly secrets harbored by the house, such as one house with the creepiest basement I’ve ever seen, comprised of what appeared to be a network of dark, dank tunnels going every which way under the house as far as the weak flashlight beam could reach. Scary!
One house I really liked, out in the country, sitting on a couple of acres of fertile land, with its own water well has an offer on it, but then again, it needs major floor repairs. There are plenty of other houses for sale in the large area in which I’m looking, so it’s likely that I’ll buy one of them. I’ll probably end up buying what most people would consider a fixer-upper. There are very few houses in “move in” condition in my price range, but if one is looking for a cheap house – in the neighborhood of $25,000, for instance – and willing to roll up their sleeves to get it ready to move in to, this is a great place to look. One benefit of buying such a cheap house is that the property taxes are proportionately low; another is that if one moves out of the house – a near certainty for a nomad like me – the potential for losing money is correspondingly reduced; a third is that a lot of people can pay cash for a house at such a price, meaning they don’t have to assume any debt or pay interest, which greatly increases the cost of the house.
From the bluffs, looking north over the Mississippi River “swamps”
Following yesterday’s tremendous thunderstorm – a fine welcome home from mother nature – today was spectacularly beautiful, as the photo above can attest. This view is a far cry from the dry, dusty, windy plains of Colorado where I was looking. Although I love the mountains of Colorado, I love water more and there’s lots of water here. Water, fertile land and plenty of sunshine – all the ingredients necessary for a vibrant food garden.
Another reason to live here is the incredible kindness of the people. For example, my real estate agent, when she learned what motel I was spending the night in, implored me to stay with her and her husband! The motel is not even all that bad, and her attitude is by no means unique. Many people here would go out of their way to help others. In fact, sometimes the poorest people – and there are a lot of poor people here – seem to be the most generous. The culture here is vastly different from that of, say, California, where everybody seems to be scheming to “get ahead.” The people in California with whom I’ve discussed my house hunting activities all seem to be concerned with the house’s potential to appreciate in value. Here, people buy a house as a place to live, not as an investment. And the culture seems to hew to the idealistic values I was brought up on, at least more so than do other locales. People routinely leave valuable items, such as boats and riding lawnmowers, in plain sight without fear that they’ll be stolen, a near certainty in many places. Few people have fences around their property and yet, property boundaries are highly respected around here. Naturally, the place has its miscreants, but the majority of people here are kind, honorable and sincere.
Building whose facade was torn off by a wind storm some years ago
Like so many small towns, this one has its fair share of buildings in various stages of decrepitude and disintegration. Mother nature is usually relied upon to take care of such buildings, many of which can be seen in fields, their roofs collapsed and vegetation growing from within their bowels. The building above had its facade ripped off by a violent wind storm some years ago and it’s been sitting like this ever since. I only wish I had taken this photo years ago while the toilet was still perched precariously on the edge of the top floor.
As someone who perversely relishes such examples of decrepitude, this town is fertile ground for my imagination, although I have seen photos of other places – Detroit, for instance – so chock full of such decrepitude that I don’t think I would survive the exhilaration of actually being there!
Within a couple of days of arriving in Kentucky, and after looking at dozens of houses, I finally bought one. I’m very pleased with it since it has a large, flat, fertile lot unobstructed by existing plants or structures. It’s ready to be utilized as a huge fruit and vegetable garden, such a lot being my preeminent criterion while looking for a house. Now I cannot wait to move into it and get started (especially after reading this article), although I won’t have much of a garden this year. Contrary to my earlier assertion regarding cheap houses and despite the incredibly low price, the house I bought is not a fixer-upper at all. It needs a little cleaning, but otherwise it’s ready to move into.
After my tiresome search for a house I went up to Paducah, a wonderful town that feels larger than its population suggests, to see an old friend. Both our lives were altered by the devastating ice storm of 2009, which gave both of us an opportunity to examine our lives and make changes. In my case, I decided to sell my demanding house which I could not afford to maintain; my friend decided to move to a new house in Paducah, a town we used to enjoy visiting together. While I have always longed to live in Paducah and looked at a couple of houses for sale in my price range, for the most part property is too expensive for me there, but at least I have some friends there I can visit.
At the start of my trip, I was not all that enthusiastic about searching for a house. As the trip progressed, however, my interest in house hunting increased and I eventually found one that pleases me immensely, so the trip, expensive as it has been, was successful.
With the inspection of my new house completed – by me – and the process of escrow begun, it was time to head back to California. I resist saying “head home” because quite honestly, I feel more at home in Kentucky now than in California.
My return did not begin without challenge, however, as I battled what seemed like the mother of all thunderstorms right from the get-go. My car was drenched and blow dried no less than five times as I drove through four states by what appeared to be the same weather front. In every direction all I could see was black horizons. Stopping for lunch, I was soaked to the skin in the mere twenty seconds it took me to hustle from the car to the restaurant. Even after I exited what appeared to be the leading edge of the front, it continued to pursue me with seemingly supernatural intent, which I tried to capture in the photos below.
Southern Missouri, being pursued by a massive thunderstorm front
Every time I stopped for a mere five minutes, that darned thunderstorm threatened to overtake me. It eventually did overtake me, but only after a several hundred mile chase, by which time it had pretty much depleted itself.
The same front, from the side
I’m driving west now on U.S. Highway 160 (days ago I was driving east on this same highway through Colorado), which has to be one of the prettiest highways in the country, far more so than any of the interstates.
Abandoned farm house in Kansas, along U.S. Highway 160
Although I said I didn’t want to drive through Kansas, I decided to give it a second chance. Fortunately for me, I passed this great old decrepit farm house along the way, pausing to imagine how it once breathed with life: dogs running around the property, children’s voices joyfully ringing in the balmy breeze, an old but trusty tractor parked near the house.
Aside from this delectable sight, my opinion of Kansas is unmoved. As I observed the last time I passed through Kansas, the state feels enveloped in an air of latent repression that seems to erupt in occasional hostility. Kansas is the only state in which I was honked at apparently for the crime of driving slowly, which I have done for thousands of miles through a dozen states on this trip alone. Ironically, I was honked at while the person was passing me in the left lane, so obviously I was not impeding their hasty journey. So why the honk? I was also honked at for slowing down to turn into a parking lot. Driving along the interstate here is bemusing, for one sees billboards that alternate between hawking religion and hawking porn, leading me to wonder if there’s some sort of bipolar psychology at play here.
Yesterday I had hoped to get through Kansas without stopping for the night, but these secondary highways, although scenic, are considerably slower than the major interstates, so I was forced to stop for the night. Fortunately, I found a cheap motel with working internet access, which allowed me to catch up on my e-mail, but today I’m eager to follow Dorothy’s and Toto’s lead in search of a happier, friendlier place.
The “Seen Better Days” Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico
Although I consider Kentucky “home” now, I also consider the southwest my first home. Whenever I pass through here, I habitually relax and enjoy the spacious vistas, the clear skies (when not saturated with chemtrails; today was a beautiful chemtrail-free day) and dry air. I’m familiar with the dirt in the southwest, the plants, the varmints, much more so than I am those of Kentucky or anywhere else for that matter. Snakes, lizards, scorpions, coyotes, rabbits and cacti are like family. I’ve hiked this terrain, camped on it and tried to grow plants on it.
For someone with my perverse affliction of being fascinated by decrepitude, few places offer a more sumptuous feast for the eyes than New Mexico. Thanks to the dry air, relatively mild weather and sparse vegetation, relics of the past can be preserved quite a long time, seemingly frozen in time. I happen to be staying in a motel that’s in the incipient stages of turning into one like that pictured above. Most people would be horrified by the place I’m staying, but it’s pleasant and cheap and the owner had two darling dogs in the lobby that really made the sale tonight.
Recently deceased gas station in Tucumcari, New Mexico. Ironically, this Phillips 66 station is as defunct as the famous Route 66 on which it sits, both harbingers of the future of our car-crazy culture.
Sometimes driving down the street in places like this it’s difficult to tell if a business is open or shut down, its lifeless-appearing building destined to become yet another decrepit structure. My motel for tonight, for instance, appeared to be shut down, but a discrete illuminated “open” sign in the window was a clue that maybe it was open for business after all; the empty parking lot was certainly not a clue! I stopped here more out of curiosity than anything else, curious to examine the business and building in the twilight of its existence. As a hint to the condition of this place, when I turned on the air conditioner it huffed and puffed, but actually made the room warmer so I opened the door instead, which was not only more effective despite the 86 degree temperature outside, but admitted the owner’s friendly dogs, with whom I shared some beef jerky. The motel swimming pool offered no respite from the heat either since there’s more water in my cup right now than in that pool. It would not surprise me in the least to drive past this place a year from now and see it dark and foreboding, a few windows broken out and weeds growing in the parking lot.
I’ve always been intrigued by Tucumcari, for no particular reason. Parts of town are rather pleasant and I could even see myself living here were it not so dry. I suppose the primary reason for being intrigued by this town has to do with some brief dialog from one of my favorite western movies, titled, “For A Few Dollars More,” one of a trilogy of spaghetti westerns. In an early scene, Colonel Douglas Mortimer, played by actor Lee Van Cleef, asks the conductor aboard a train how long it will be until they reach Tucumcari. A helpful passenger tells Mortimer that the train doesn’t stop in Tucumcari, whereupon Mortimer smiles and replies in a calm, authoritative tone, “This train’ll stop in Tucumcari.”
Coincidentally, the motel where I’m staying is right next to some railroad tracks – evidently I’m on the “wrong side of the tracks” again, sigh – and I’m listening to the third freight train in four hours rumble by.
Some prefer a room with a view. I prefer a room with a view of dogs. Of course, it helps to have some beef jerky on hand with which to secure their ephemeral devotion!
The owner of the motel told me that the blond dog was abandoned at the motel as a puppy. The other dog was left behind as well when its owners’ car broke down and they were forced to continue their journey by bus. I thought it was really cool of the owner to adopt and care for both dogs.
It was a pretty uneventful drive through New Mexico today. Seeking some sort of milestone to indicate that I’m actually making progress on my belabored journey, I sought to make it to Arizona today, which I did, ending up in the tiny town of Springerville, which sits upon a mountain plateau. In fact, I’ve been through here before and my name was even still in the computer system of the motel where I am tonight. I only wish I had come through here before Arizona dropped a dime on the illegals because the Mexican food in the restaurant across the street is awful!
Lava flow along U.S. Highway 380 in New Mexico
If nothing else, New Mexico is scenic. While driving along U.S. Highway 380 I encountered this amazing ancient lava flow. It was interesting enough up close, but when I ascended the mountains overlooking the flow, I could clearly discern the black river of solidified rock that once flowed through the valley below unknown eons ago.
U.S. Highway 60, west of I-25 is particularly pleasant because it is almost devoid of trucks. On most of my trip it seems that every single highway, no matter how isolated or narrow is crawling with trucks, in some cases more trucks than automobiles! What a screwed up economy we have that it necessitates hauling huge quantities of goods all over tarnation. I look forward to the day when fuel is too expensive to be squandered so and we can find ways to use all those truck trailers as inexpensive housing or something. As a matter of fact, I spent some time while driving imagining how to turn a truck trailer into an abode. I think I could live in one if it were properly fitted out, although I would prefer a shipping container since they are sturdier. Don’t laugh, the day may come when people will be happy to live in such quarters, given the alternatives.
Since I’m not particularly in a hurry, I decided to take the long way to Globe, Arizona, along U.S. Highway 191. I actually attempted to drive that highway a couple of years ago during the winter. Doh! A short distance up the mountain from Alpine, the highway was entirely covered in deep snow and not a tire track was to be seen. I prudently turned around and went another way, my attempted trip along highway 191 stymied, until now.
Alpine, Arizona, at an elevation of about 8,000 feet
This drive, from Alpine south is one of the prettiest, most pleasant drives in the entire country (of course, I am partial to driving through the mountains). I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys delightful scenery. Although the area around Flagstaff, Arizona looks similar, I like this area better. Unlike the Flagstaff area, which is too developed for my taste, this area is comparatively undeveloped. However, I fear it’s only a matter of time before this area becomes some sort of resort area for the wealthy, as there are already several new, expensive looking homes in the area.
One must not be in a hurry on this highway, for not only will they miss the beautiful scenery and the ample opportunities to stop and enjoy the surroundings, they will put themselves at risk of a several hundred foot plunge down the many treacherous drop-offs, often just inches from the edge of the roadway.
Arizona forest, south of Alpine
From Alpine, the highway ascends, peaking at well over 9,000 feet of elevation. Along the way the terrain is covered by relatively dense pine forests like the one above that demand one stop and enjoy the air and serenity. There are many places one can stop and enjoy a picnic well away from the road, not that it matters much since the traffic is so light that one can stop for ten minutes or more without seeing a single vehicle pass by. The prevailing sound one hears is the gentle hum of the wind through the pine needles. It’s the kind of place one stops at and doesn’t wish to leave. I would happily live in a shack up here. The road is slow enough that one can roll down all the car windows and just let the heavily pine-scented mountain air blow through the car.
One of the mountain’s indigenous inhabitants
At one place I stopped to take in the view I met this adorable little lizard. He was coy at first and played hard to get, but after I convinced him that my intentions were other than culinary in nature, he seemed quite relaxed to sit in my hand and then on my pants. In fact, I’d swear he said he wanted to come with me when I set him back on the dirt. If only I’d saved all the flies I killed in my motel room last night (I confess, I'm a fly murderer), the little guy could have enjoyed a feast!
The drive along U.S. Highway 191 is long and very slow, but so interesting that I didn’t feel fatigued. At lower elevations one can see pine trees and cacti side by side, leading one to wonder if they’re in the desert or the mountains. The earth alone presents a panorama of colors: rust, red, orange, brown, purple, gray, yellow, white. Sometimes the earth assumes half a dozen colors in the space of a mile. As I drove along, I ruminated on the explanation for all the colors, assuming it had something to do with the mineral composition. Shortly, I ran across something that confirmed my speculation about the rich mineral content of the earth around here, a sight at once awe inspiring and troubling.
Arizona before and after
What lay before me was a manmade “Grand Canyon,” an enormous open pit mine spanning miles. It was awe inspiring by virtue of its vastness and troubling by virtue of the indelible scar it leaves on the face of the earth. It will take mother nature millions of years to undo what man has done here.
I feel ambivalent about such projects. On the one hand, I recognize that extracting minerals from the earth is one of the only two sources of real wealth, the other being the sun. Everything else we regard as wealth is derived from one of these two sources. It is essential to the survival of all living creatures, plant and animal alike, to extract this wealth. On the other hand, why can’t human beings extract such resources in a more delicate manner? Why must every human endeavor result in a horrifying blight on the planet, whether we’re talking about this enormous scar on the land or the equally putrid sight of a million head of cattle crammed into a tiny feed lot in Texas or an uncontrollable undersea oil gusher? If we could only manage to constrain our greed and seek a balance between profit and sustainability, we could mine for minerals, farm plants and raise livestock in ways that aren’t a blight, but exist in harmony with nature. Such approaches are sustainable; the sort of practice pictured above isn’t. Shocking as the above photo is, humans have managed to outdo even the ravages of this mine. The practice of mountaintop removal to extract coal in places like eastern Kentucky is an even more egregious and heart wrenching desecration of the landscape than what is pictured above.
I ended up today in Globe, a mining town draped over the rugged hills. At least the Mexican food is better here than in Springerville!
Departing Globe, Arizona early this morning to beat the heat, I ran across this intriguing display on the way out of town (it may have been in the adjacent town of Miami – I can’t recall) and just had to stop. As I said, I’m ambivalent about such things. I saw some of the enormous trucks that carry the larger bed shown below, and watching them lumber along on their 12-foot high wheels is awe inspiring, despite the implications for the landscape. It turns out that the area around Globe also harbors a huge open pit mine, although as far as I could tell it’s not as vast as the one I saw yesterday.
Large mine truck inside the bed of a larger one. The large one hauls 240 tons of material, which is the weight of a jumbo jet.
As always with such trips, I’m sorry to see it come to an end. I like being a nomad, roaming from place to place, wherever my whim takes me. That’s how I’ve always traveled. Although this trip spanned 26 days, I have traveled for as much as two months straight and would have preferred to keep on traveling. But I guess even someone who’s funemployed like me has to be at least a little bit responsible, if for no other reason than traveling the way I do is not cheap. It’s not expensive, given the spartan manner in which I travel, but it’s still cheaper to live in a house, especially a cheap one in Kentucky.
There are other advantages to living in a house, such as food from one’s own garden and pets. This evening my sister brought over a chicken she adopted just this evening – she has three now – and the new bird is just the sweetest thing and seems to like sitting in peoples’ arms. We set her outside and she immediately began scratching under the bushes and scarfing down worms or some other god-awful things. I would definitely like to have some chickens for pets, as well as for eggs. They can eat the bugs in the vegetable garden and fertilize the plants at the same time. Some goats would be fun, I think, but obviously they need to be kept away from the garden! And of course, dogs are a must. The house I bought, assuming the purchase goes smoothly, will be well suited for all these purposes. Fortunately, the house needs little work, so I can focus my attention on making constructive use of the large yard.
Prior to returning to California I was prepared to give Arizona the prestigious “Most Impatient Drivers” award, but California wins hands down, although many Arizonans today are California emigres so I can be forgiven for being confused. Being away for nearly a month, spending my time in locales where people still drive civilly, I forgot what it’s like to drive in California, at least in the urban areas. California has the dubious double honor of winning a second prize, the coveted “Biggest A-Hole Drivers” award. What a shame. When I was a kid growing up here – I was born in Los Angeles – Californians were mellow and friendly. I suppose the rigors of keeping up with the already absurd and still soaring cost of living, as well as enduring the ever growing hoards of people have affected the disposition of people here. While I will miss the spectacular natural scenery of this state, I won’t miss the people at all. Quite honestly, I don’t understand why people continue to flock here, as there are many other fine places to live, an opinion reinforced by this trip of mine. I guess the state’s allure still has much to do with the power of illusion. All I can say is god help this state when the economy takes a turn for the worse. These people will be at each others’ throats; one need only recall the Los Angeles riots of 1992 for confirmation.