(Thank Goodness) It’s All Downhill From Here

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
– Ernest Hemingway

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The wind is up and it is spurring the tumbleweeds on. They roll across the trail — historic Route 66 — and they catch me on the knee. Going 70 mph I can feel a small sting when it makes contact, nothing that will leave a mark though. Up ahead I see a dust storm and I wonder if it is planning on making its way to the road, but it doesn’t. Dust storms and tumbleweeds, this is everything I imagined the West to be.

I spent a few days in Las Vegas. They were good days, days generally are in my life, but they weren’t great. The three days that I found myself hanging at the Vegas hotel I was working. On Saturday I went on a long car ride through Lake Mead Recreation Area with my pal, Dan. He was the engineer that was having the conference in Las Vegas in the first place. The other days were filled with researching, and writing, applications and proposals for art related stuff.

Another couple of my friends were in Vegas too. They had been introduced to me earlier this fall through Dan, and I had stayed the night at their place when I was in Laramie, WY (which I write about here). They are another couple of smart engineers. The gals name is Andrea, and when she found out I was in Vegas we made plans to have breakfast. Saturday morning, before taking off on the roadtrip Dan had planned, I ate a large breakfast at a Casino Buffet. Andrea drove me along the strip to get to our destination, so I had the opportunity to see it during the daytime. We discussed travel plans and the routes I should take. When Andrea dropped me off at the hotel, after an overly large meal, I met up with an eager Dan who had a plan. We would aim for Hoover Dam first and then hit up Lake Mead.

Dan had a rental car so it was no fuss to get over there. The route out to the dam was beautiful, and then there was the dam itself.

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The South side.


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The North side.

Hoover Dam is an awesome feat of engineering. It is a gigantic piece of work that makes one wonder “how’d they do that.” Since I was walking around with an engineer the question of how is exactly where the conversation wandered to. Dan pointed out all the things he had found interesting from past visits to the monument, and I looked. We found new things of interest too. One thing Dan pointed out were the fish wayyy below, swimming near the surface of the water. He told ne they were there, but Iwas first to spot them. Due to some mineral that wad around the area the water was green. Where the water was turned up by the turbines it was a bright emerald color. There were ducks in the emerald water, enjoying the leisurely swim of water fowl.

After an awe inspiring stop at the man made marvel that had completely changed the landscape Dan and I move onto Lake Mead National Recreation Area. This move was due in part to the fact that we had seen everything we thought we could, but it was also due to a lack of forthought on both our parts to wear shorts or pack water. As true motorcycle riders we know how to pack light.. at least that is the excuse I’m giving.

We needed water and sustenance so we first made our way back to Boulder, NV and then out to Lake Mead.

I think I have found my favorite park. The area was breathtaking. An ever changing scene. The landscape changes in color and texture from dip to crest of the hills and mountains that make up the area. The landscape was spattered with growth and wildflowers gave the already-intense colors the perfect accent.

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Dan and I stopped several times to examine the soil. One of the stops put us on ground that had a red hue. It was flakey, like a biscuit, but when dampened became more like sticky clay. I assume, but – like I say – I’m no scientist, it was red clay. At this same spot we also found an old can. A Bahrs beercan to be exact. I found many beautiful flowers. I got photographs of the flowers and picked up the beer can.

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At one point we saw a gravel road off to the West. Being a good biker, and mature adult, Dan decided to test the rental cars potential on rough terrain. I was along for the ride, plus it wasn’t my name on the rental agreement, so in the interest of science I thought it’d be alright to see what the little Nissan could do to. The sign on the road said something about ore mines road, yet I was still baffled when I saw holes in the mountains. Dan had been too focused to notice the signs, so he wasn’t sure either. We saw a cave-like hole at road level and stopped to check it out.

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It was an old mine. It was a dark cavernous expanse. One could look into it and see just a little way, but it looked straight out of any good mining movie I had ever seen, they got it right.

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The mine was short. Only about three and half foot tall. It looked like the makings of clusterphobia to me. The sign beside it told us not to go in, an order I didn’t mind obeying. We walked back towards the car, me photographing and pointing out every pretty flower to a disinterested Dan. I started in on giving him crap for his lack of interest in the refined when I saw a new purple color sparkle at me. It clearly wasn’t a flower. I bent down to pick up the bit of glass and saw that it was, instead,a rock. I showed Dan. He didn’t immediately perk up when I told him, but he did when he looked at it. He told me it was amethyst Better than an old beer can, let me tell you.

We explored a bit further down the road. Dan realized, rightly so, that the road was too much for the small car at this point, and so we turned around. On our way out I pointed out the first sign I had saw and Dan read it aloud. It was a place thet welcomed jewel explorers to come and search out stones. I would have never thought of myself as a jewel explorer before. A new title for the resume, Diamond the Diamond Miner (diamond, amythist, its all the same).

Lake Mead was all that and a bag of popcorn. After we had thoroughly explored we headed back to Vegas. It was the night I would walk the strip.

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A living satue. One of my favorite things I saw on the strip. It was hard to see many things because there were sooo many people.

It was an interesting walk. Lots of lights, lots of people. It was a huge shock after spending the day so peacefully exploring nature. There was a point where a human dressed as a big cartoon character cut in front of Dan and I (and all the people trailing us) and proceeded to slow down traffic to a crawl. The character was a giant snowman. I slowly grew bitter at that white fluffy creature with the huge smile. I get clusterphobic around lots of people and smells. I was crowded in and annoyed, and that was as much as I could handle of the strip. Our last stop was the Bellagio and we got to watch the water show that they do with the fountains, that was pretty cool.

Leaving Vegas – my place of work – was refreshing, and I’m looking forward to the last two weeks of my trip, camping out and enjoying the ride.

The first night out of Vegas wound me up in Kaibab National Forest. There was a predicted temperature of 20°. At an elevation of 6000 some feet, and with the unique privilege of being nestled below the tallest peak in Arizona, Humphrey’s Peak (some 11,000 feet), it was no wonder why. What did make me wonder is why I wasn’t just forking out the $50 to stay in a crappy hotel room. Well, that wasn’t a hard answer, I’m poor, and I’m tough. I’m from Minnesota, 20° in a tent should be nothing. I wasn’t exactly correct, it wasn’t nothing, but it was doable. A large part of the credit goes to the reflective blanket given to me by my friends in San Leandro, CA. They told me it was an invaluable item to have and when they found out I didn’t have one, they went and purchased one. It was a gift that got stored in my commitments up until last night. I unfolded it and used it for the first time, what a genius invention. I was toasty most all of the night except when I stretched my feet out because the blanket didn’t reach that far. I thought it was too short, but I woke up in the morning to find that I had pulled it too far over my head.

The West is so hot and cold.

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My pictures of the Canyon turned out nothing like the photos I have seen, but the views really were. It was gorgeous.

The next day was spent at the Canyon. It lead to a long day of riding and so a late night of setting up camp. I had stopped at a Navajo art stand to get pictures of the Little Colorodo River Gorge. The stand interested me as much as the scenery did. I looked at all the beautiful hand made trinkets from all different Navajo artists. I really wanted to purchase something for my sister, but I new that my cash funds were low low. I had only been looking at the tables set up outside, but when I had saw all that I went inside. The music that I had been hearing was a mix of pow wow tunes, and it made the perfect soundtrack. Inside I was greeted by a beautiful Navajo woman creating jewlery. I smiled at her and got a lovely smile back. “Where are you traveling from?”

“Minnesota.”

“Wow,” she said. I asked about the jewelry, she asked about my trip. I asked the cost of the earrings and she asked me where to next. I told her and asked her about the best way to get there.

“It’s going to snow in Flagstaff tomorrow.” At 11,000 foot elevation that wasn’t surprising. The kind woman told me that I could camp anywhere along the road, but I should keep an eye out for the wind. I liked her a lot so I bought a bracelet and a beautiful pair of earrings (as long as I was splurging…). She told me to have a safe journey, and for some reason I felt quite spiritual when I mounted Little Wing and rode off.

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There is no way to fully capture the color I saw on a camera.

The day continued like that, spirtual and all. It could have been the varying 40° to 50° temps depending on the varying elevation, or it coukd have been the scenery (I ♡ AZ), but it felt like a real journey. I kept my eye out for a place to camp, but because if the wind I rode until dark. There wasn’t a good place to pull off. Finally I saw a rundown gas station with a sign promising RV Camping. I pulled off and asked the attendant inside. He said “No, we don’t do that anymore.”

“Do you know a place a person could pitch a tent around here then?”

“Oh yeah,” he responded, “anywhere behind the building there. Actually, lots of people just set up a tent by the picnic tables, but it might be windy.”

Arizona is a drastic change from Cali with all of its fair-game camping opportunities. I pitched my tent, and was happy to get off the back of Little Wing and to my warm sleeping bag.

It just so happens that I am reading this book by Tony Hillerman called Listening Woman. It is set in a large part in Tuba City and Mexican Water. The Navajo Nation the book refers to is the same one I rode through from the Grand Canyon on my way to the Four Corners Monument. I spent the night behind the Mexican Water trading post, did laundry at there laundromat come morning, and ate biscuits and gravy at the restaraunt. I couldn’t of asked for a better spot. The long ride was worth it.

I went to sleep with a dog barking at me, and I woke up to see a litter of puppies hanging out behind the gas station where I had pitched my tent, only about 100 foot away. I assumethe puppies were there for at least a vew weeks, but it was an interesting phenomena. As I took my tent down I was approached by an older male dog, I assume he was the father. He followed me around alot, never barking, so it wasn’t the same dog I had heard the night before. I think his gal was more vocal than he.

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As I was leaving the gas station after refilling my tank and Little Wing’s, a native man leaned out of his window and asked about the engine. He gave me a big smile when I told him I was from Minnesota. We talked a bit, and as he pulled of he said, “Have a safe journey.”

Have a safe journey such a great way of saying it. I hopped on Little Wing and made my way East, thirty miles, to Four Corners Monument.

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The storm clouds on the East, and the clear sky to the West.

I rode towards a storm and hoped I wouldn’t hit it. It was in the mountains South of me as I made the turn North to get to the spot where four states meet.

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I got an obligatory picture and stared in awe at this neat wonder. It took five dollars to view the monument because it actually belongs to the Navajo Nation, something I find quite interesting and apropos.. something about the Natives of America tying the country together, or something like that. As I got back on Little Wing I was approached by another Native man. He asked the typical questions, whre was I from, where was I going, why and how long. I showed him my map and shoerd him where I was going, and asked how he would get through New Mexico. as he started to answer a green car pulled up on our left, right behind him.

“Wait, hold up, where are you going?” asked another Native man, poking his head and outstretched arm out the passenger window. I answered the typical questions I had just gone over with the first man. “Alone?” The passenger asked.

“No,” said the first man, “I’m going with her now,” and he mimicked hopping on the back. He and the passenger were clearly old friends.

“You know what? I am jealous,” said the passenger. “Straight up jealous. Have a safe trip, peace,” he said making the V sign out of the window with his hand as his driver started to drive on.

“What, now?” the first Native man asked as the car took off. He pointed at the map. I told him what I was thinking and he gave me a rundown of what he would do. He asked if I would start up Little Wing so he could hear him. I did, despite the embarrassing problem I was having with the idle from all the rapid changes in elevation. “You need to chop the pipe,” he sqid in response to Little Wings quite thump thump thump.

I explained to him about the engine, and that fascinated him. We talked and when it came time for him to go he left me with a hand shake, “safe journey,” he told me.

“You too,” I said.

Journey.

Arizona gives a person a feeling of pride. I feel so blessed to be a part of this beautiful land. It is hard to believe that these extensive landscapes can be real. Reds, greens, pinks and aquas, the scenes run the gambit. The canyon, and surrounding areas have the unique quality of looking like a desert but also having a lot of green growth. I’m no scientist, but I would say that’s due to the high elevation. The people are also my favorite. I never met people that were so quick to get sincere with a starnger. They have a lot to say, and they say it well. I assumeit is the Navajo culture or something, but I haven’t once yet got the feeling that the people are talking to my appearance. I feel they are addressing my actions and way of living, which is an oddity in my ‘journey’ thus far.

I left Arizona. I made it to Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. Well, the borders anyway. I actually did enter Colorado and rode about thirty miles to avoid that rainstorm storm I was talking about. My state count is at fourteen (fifteen if I count Utah, but I won’t.. yet).

I thought I’d be half way up the East Coast by now when I left in September. Thre was a flaw in that plan, I don’t plan. I don’t want to plan. I want to be where I am and enjoy the heck out of it. Even if it is 50° and windy and my hands are freezing.

(On a separate note, I don’t think my hands will ever be hydrated again.)

It is all about the journey and I don’t have much left on this one. Despite the cold, despite the wind, despite the dwindling of resources I am facing, I am keeping a happy attitude and making the most of what I see. People I meet out of the blue want to make the most of the journey than I do too. Camping, riding, camping, and riding, exactly what I set out to do. The people along the way really put it into perspective don’t they?

My conclusion? This is everything I imagined the West to be.

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Is there anything better to wake up to? Bed head and and all. And that view of New Mexican Rockies ain't too bad either.

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