Day 2: Albuquerque to Las Vegas 

Satori 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 Bandera Volcano. 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 dinosaur 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 sky.  

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 Andy Divine, 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 reservations around. 

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... 

Heading westward from Albuquerque
Laguna Pueblo--People have lived here for 600 years.
Satori at the Continental Divide
It means "little bear" in Navajo. 
That's me, standin' on the corner in-- well, you know...
Entering Arizona
Giant, mechanical flying dinosaur (with Lois Lane riding bareback) at Stewart's Petrified Wood, near Holbrook, Arizona. (The mechanical wings creaked as they flapped.)
One of the historically inaccurate "dinoramas" alongside the Arizona highway
Near Winslow, Arizona
Satori makes it to Nevada
Hoover Dam, from the Arizona side
Me and this storm got to know each other real well
Prologue --Day 1 --- Day 2 --- Day 3 --- Day 4 --- Day 5 --- Day 6 --- Day 7 --- Day 8 --- Day 9 --- Day 10 -- Epilogue
Current weather conditions in
Gerlach, Nevada
Last Updated: December, 2003
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