|Day 2: Albuquerque to Las Vegas
was running on fumes when I pulled up to an Albuquerque gas station Tuesday,
Aug. 26. I got $20 of gas, and hit Interstate 40 West just before
9 AM. There was a cool breeze, and I actually had to roll up my windows
against the chill. Desolate peaks lurked on the western horizon as I left
the city. The land west of Albuquerque is beautiful, rugged and amazing.
It reminded me of the surface of the Moon. Appropriately enough, I soon
passed the New Mexico town of Los Lunas. Wonderful red stone cliffs
overlook the town of Mesita--in fact, the highway goes right through
them. In one town, the side of the church was painted with the sign "Baprist
Church--Truckers Welcome." I lost track of all the little Indian
casinos on the way.
House-sized bubbles of volcanic rock burst out of the
countryside all the way to Grants, where you could stop to see the dormant
Volcanic outcroppings followed me further down the road. At the Continental
Divide, I had to break for a pitstop. The sign outside the Indian Market
said the elevation was 7,295 feet. As I watched the water flush down the
toilet at the Continental Divide, I had to wonder: Atlantic? Pacific?
Atlantic...? At Gallup, New Mexico, great backbones of rock thrust
up out of the parched earth. I got passed by a car with a bumper sticker
that read "Whatever."
Satori and I crossed the Arizona border at 11:30. I was
driving through the same country described so well in Tony
Hillerman books, and just as I was thinking that I passed a sign
for Chee's Indian Store. Eastern Arizona has some lovely high plains.
Interstate 40 goes right through the Petrified
Forest, and from the highway you can see some colorful glimpses of
the Painted Desert. On a hill near mile marker 306 you can also see...
a two-headed dinosaur! It was an ad for Stewart's
Petrified Wood, just up the road. They had some nice stuff, and outside
you could feed some real ostriches. The road near Holbrook is dotted with
dinosaur statues, advertising an attraction called Dinosaur Park. It looks
like a tourist trap, but inside they actually had a pretty decent collection
of fossils and Indian pottery. Around back, you could buy all the petrified
poop you could carry. The broad Arizona plains west of Holbrook can
be impressive and humbling.
I couldn't resist stopping in Winslow, Arizona to get
my picture "standin' on the corner." Winslow even has a little park
downtown where people can have their picture taken. Such a fine site to
see. A nice lady from the drug store across the street helped me out. Westward,
the road pointed towards an impressive mountain on the horizon, partially
obscured by an impressive thunder cloud looming overhead. I was headed
straight for it.
I saw lightning as I headed into the Coconino
National Forest. The sun fell behind a cloud, and the temperature immediately
lowered. I got to Flagstaff, and as I passed westward through town, I was
immediately in uncharted territory. When I took the family to the
Grand Canyon in 2000, we followed I-40 all the way to Flagstaff, then left
it when we turned north to the canyon. Now, I found myself on roads I'd
never traveled before. I crossed the Arizona Divide, elevation 7,335 feet--the
highest I got my whole trip. Signs had been warning to watch out for wild
elk roaming across the road. Appropriately enough, one section of highway
had been adopted by the Flagstaff Elks Lodge. At Exit 185, right before
3 PM, I stopped for $15 of gas. The sky was dark, the wind chilly. Rain
began to fall. I hit the road westward again. Thunder boomed overhead as
I entered the Kaibab
National Forest. The rain
grew in intensity until it was coming down in big, angry drops. As I rounded
the top of hill, I saw a string of red brake lights ahead of me. I applied
my brakes–no effect! I was hydroplaning! As I pumped my breaks and
began to slow down, the first hailstones banged against my roof. Several
cars had pulled over to the shoulder to wait out the storm, and I decided
to join them. Soon, the highway was white with hail. Semis continued to
fly down the road, oblivious to the weather. After about 10 minutes, the
hail let up, and I got back on the road. I soon entered a 10-mile construction
zone, during which time I passed a scenic overlook that probably would've
been very interesting under different circumstances. I passed out from
under the storm, but dark, scary clouds continued to dominate the southern
It was late afternoon by then, and still it rained off
and on. Passing a 4,000 foot elevation marker, I saw deep, purple scars
lanced across a mountain.
I think it was volcanic rock. Just after 5 PM (Oklahoma time), I stopped
at a Petro station outside Kingman, Arizona (home of the Route
66 Museum) to catch my breath. Kingman was the home of character actor
famous for being a sidekick in lots of old westerns; they've even got
a street named after him. Kingman was where I left the shadow of Route
66 and took Highway 93 northwest towards the Nevada border. I found myself
in a wide valley, surrounded by high mountains. Signs advertised 1 &
5 acre lots, and I saw little communities of mobile homes far off the road,
something like where Nicholas Cage lived in "Raising Arizona." As I neared
Hoover Dam, I saw signs prohibiting big, commercial vehicles on the dam.
I wondered if that was an anti-terrorism move, or simply a construction
concern. The closer I got to Nevada, the more volcanic the mountains looked.
As I entered the Lake
Mead area, I was met with impressive bluffs, which turned into peaks
and crags of Olympian proportions.
As the sun got lower in the west, I crossed Hoover Dam
and entered Nevada. I'd never been in Nevada before. Over the border, the
road changes to Interstate 515, which took me into Las Vegas. I came over
the pass and started down into the valley, and Las Vegas spread out before
me. The big hotels and casinos of the Strip lined up like gargantuan dominoes.
I had trouble finding the Motel 6, since the streets didn't seem to be
marked right, but I eventually found it. For practical reasons, which I'll
elaborate on later, I had to splurge for a motel room in Vegas. I'd been
on the road for just under 11 hours. After taking a quick shower and cooking
myself an MRE for supper, I did some quick calculations. I figured out
I had enough money to get me to Burning Man... but not enough to get back
home. The good news was that I had enough MRE's to keep me fed for the
duration (I just had to ration 3 days worth of food into 8 days). I decided
to go on to Burning Man, and trust to providence on getting home. I still
had to make a tough decision: I had originally planned to go home along
a northern route, through Salt Lake City and Wyoming, but that was out
of the question now. So, I went to the front desk and had them change my
In my room, I worked on a project. Burning Man has a tradition
of giving, so I brought things to give to people: bandana handkerchiefs.
I found an assortment of colors and I wrote "Burning Man 2003" on each
one, making them collector's items. I had been encouraged to "have
fun" in Vegas, but as tired, stressed, hungry and broke as I was, I really
didn't feel like going out. It was raining, anyway. In the most partying
town on Earth, I went to bed early...