Saturday, 16 June 2007

"I've been to Colorado where the mountains touch the sky...." 333 miles

"So waddya think of Blair?" said the thick set guy with the faded teeshirt and baseball cap, occupying the corner seat at the bar. (Thinks: "he looks like he is perhaps a Republican...."). Back to Doug in a moment.

Set off from Cortez and I realised that I had crossed a timezone so was now only 7 hours behind the UK. Drove up into the San Juan Mountains - part of the Rockies. The scenery changed from hot and dry to lush green with spruce pine, waterfalls, rivers and snow capped peaks. A DJ called "Cheeky Monkey" on KOTO in Telluride had a caller on asking for volunteers to help remove a fallen tree from a creek, "It could be kinda fun". In Montrose some hours later, another DJ (I think he may have been on KPAW: The Bear), was talking about "the big chili cook off" this weekend; away from the major cities you make your own entertainment.

A few hours later I was down the other side in the heat of Canon City sitting in a bar with one other customer.....Doug.

"Tony Blair?...well erm....fudgety fudge fudge fudge...erm good and er not so good....fudgety....(Don't mention the war)...erm WMD (damn too late you fool)....45 minutes erm not sure about the erm intelligence...fudge fudge....however Saddam Hussein didn't seem like he was a very nice man....erm fudgety"

Doug: "That French guy was a bad man too!"

Me: (Brain: Skkreeeeee... halt!.) You honestly can't believe that Jaques Chirac was as bad as Saddam Hussein just because he disagreed with the US??? Think of it this way you two are very similar: No one tells the Americans what to do...the French do what they like as well. On this occasion you disagreed. The French were on your side against us in the War of Independence!! "

Not sure Doug was entirely convinced, but he did buy me a drink which was kind of him.

Staggered, several hours later, back to my room and at 06:30 all hell broke loose. A spectacularly loud noise rent the air and made the walls shake. I had failed to spot a sign on the back of the door which read "A railroad runs the entire length of Canon City...the law says the train must sound its whistle at every road crossing...we can do nothing about it and we apologise for any inconvenience. I had heard that lonesome whistle blow!

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Thursday, 14 June 2007

"Along the Navajo trail..." 366 miles

Double whammy! this is turning into a proper America trip. Set off about 9am and drove up to the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

Impressive, but somehow having seen so many photos and with all the amazing scenery I have seen so far on this trip, it didn't overwhelm me as I expected it to.

Headed for Monument Valley; the one "must see" on this trip. To get there I drove through the arid Navajo Indian reservation with its lay bys filled with stalls selling genuine pottery and jewellery. I had promised a friend I would get her a necklace.

At a Grand Canyon official gift shop amongst the dream catchers and the like I spotted a sign: "All our products American made" The the rack I was looking at had a small sign which read: "Indian American products not made by Indian Americans"!

That is why I turned into a lay by which had the sign "Nice Indians". They were selling arrows, mind you. The young woman who sold me the item said she had made it herself although she was a bit hazy as to what it was made from. Seeing the grinding poverty I felt better about buying it from her rather than the park gift shop. National parks are not free: Yosemite and Sequoia cost me $20 a piece. Grand Canyon, secure in its reputation, asks you to stump up $25.

Still only about 11.30 so I decided I would go for Monument Valley today as well. This to me was worth the price of the ticket alone. Something I had seen in Westerns ever since I was a child. I was a rider on the range. Only downside was they had just tarred the road so when I stepped out to take a photo the feet got stuck.

Then at a nearby petrol station one of the many native American hustlers tried to sell me a moccasin....ONE? Maybe be I had strayed into Hopi territory. Navajo, Blackfeet, Hopi....maybe I should Sioux. (Sorry I was on a tribal roll there).

I wanted to get from Arizona to Colorado even though the route strayed into Utah and Mormon territory. Not a lot of "down drinking at the bar" thereabouts. Headed up through Mexican Hat which boasted a number of motels with bars attached. I have learned to distrust neon signs. Everyone loves their neon, so what you think is a bar turns out to be an estate agent, a church or maybe a nail clinic.

Ute mountain took me to Cortez and a few drinks and another burrito this time in "Blondie's Pub and Grub" - a biker bar with lots of Hulk Hogan lookalikes on Harleys. Although it does have a website if you want to go find it. The nice woman who served me was anything but blonde...she may not have been the owner.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

"I get my kicks on..." 283 miles

Decided to head for the Grand Canyon - however, whilst looking at the map I realised I could take in the Hoover Dam on the way. A few days ago when I was still further west a guy said "the big stuff's over there," pointing eastwards. So far he has been right.

"Rrrrrrrr bertwing" The fridge in my room at the motel made this noise everytime its motor started up...still not to worry, it was keeping my beer cool. I keep a stash in the car in case I run into a dry county on my travels. It was my 7 O'clock alarm.

Skirted Las Vegas heading south on highway 93 some terrific advertising signs: "Dermatologist...acne, birth cancer". "Evening appetite control tablets" Presumably the antidote to the Taco Bell ads which proclaim: "the fourth meal....bring on the night". Once into Arizona there was an interesting road safety ad in several section along the highway that read: "A man, a miss....a car a curve.....he kissed the miss and missed the curve".

Hoover Dam was specatacular and a testament to 1930s architecture. It reminded me slightly of the BBC's broadcasting house in London. Large, metal, highly polished doors and handrails. Marble in the restrooms.

Fell into conversation with Noel who was also on his mid-life crisis trip. He was originally from Bristol and now living in Ireland and was travelling by motorcycle from Washington to San Francisco. He suggested going to New York via Denver as the Rocky Mountains were spectacular he said. May take him up on that.

Not going to make it to the Grand Canyon today but it did give me a chance to drive along a part of the old Route 66 on the way to Williams.

Listening to the country station KFLG::"K Flag". Deserted highway. Some tumbleweed blew across the road in front of me......perfect!

"6 days on the road..." 368 miles

I am going to have to boil the car I have decided. The heat and the sand and the sun tan oil have left every surface stained and smudged. If I continue my regime of "man moisturiser" and the factor 30 my face is going to slide off. It makes for interesting reactions at truck stops when I open the door with my "melting Goth" look.

Visalia to Parhump was today's trip which took me up through the Sierra Nevada and then down, down, down into Death Valley - reputedly the hottest place on earth and 260 feet below sea level. Temperatures as high as 120f have been recorded here. However, luckily for me I chose a mild day with a positively balmy 107f. Stocked up with water at Lake Isabella and decided to leave the air con off in case it overheated the engine. It didn't, but I did.

There is a splendid and slightly unnerving feeling of isolation driving mile after mile over a deserted and not very smooth road with few if any other vehicles. With no mobile signal, there is at the back of your mind that "what if..." feeling.

As Parhump is in Nevada, despite it being a one horse town it is also a gamblers paradise. Sat at the bar in a small casino with the same video gaming machines set into the bar top that I saw in Reno. Meanwhile a woman behind the bar did her best to drum up custom.

Sitting reading the paper and this voice says "you wanna Jaegermeister shot with that?".....nearly at the bottom of the glass and ...whack...another drink arrives. "erm I didn't order that..." "you don't wannit?" "well now that its here I'll drink it". She didn't charge me for the last one.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

"And I love Yosemite, I love you land of sunshine..." 279 miles

"You wanna go pee pee or potty?" said the father of a small child in the restroom of "Nicelys" Diner/Cocktail lounge/Laundromat (multitasking) in Lee Vining. He then started to wash his hands. Something I had been attempting to do but was unable to get the taps to work. "Just pull and turn" he said. "So that is why you rule the world?" I replied..."you can do stuff we can't!" He looked for a moment and then started to laugh.

As I filled up with fuel at the petrol station across the street a group of old men had gathered at the workshop to talk. "they meet here everyday to shoot the breeze" said the pump attendant. "nice place to be" said I. "Ok if you like being poor" he replied. Obvious when you think of it. Tiny community no jobs.

Driving up through the park it was sensory overload time. The sights the smells the wildlife (one dead deer, lot of dragon flies, no bears). The guide book says "don't approach wildlife" like I am going to saunter up to a grizzly! Eventually ended up in a small town called Visalia. The motel receptionist who's eyeshadow matched her top told me all the bars were up on "Brubaker". I walked for blocks and even asked in a Chinese restaurant. No one had heard of it. Ended up in a bar/restaurant called "Crawddadys". Met a bloke who was a jazz drummer who asked me; "does anyone like us?"

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Sunday, 10 June 2007

"And you played without a care but not up in the High Sierra" 176 miles

All the things you read about Casino gambling are true. I lost track of time. One minute I was checking in to my room in a casino hotel the next it was the following morning.

In between times I took in a comedy show. "Ladeez and genlemen, please welcome from England Mr Joel Sanders" - all this way to watch a British comic? Main event was "cowboy comedian" Kip Attaway who did jokes and bawdy songs and had props like hats and sang with helium. This was more like it! I enjoyed him, as did the mainly silver haired audience who didn't bat an eyelid as he sang songs such as "How Can I Tell You I Love You When You're Sitting On My Face? "Paris Hilton Is A Million Dollar Ho!".

After that it was time for gambling ... oddly enough wandering through the casinos and seeing people grimly staring at slot machines, or watching the turn of a card without any semblance of enjoyment on their faces put me right off. That, and my inherent meanness and lack of understanding of games of chance. So I decided to wander round and watch instead.

Nothing gets in the way of the gambling. All the bar tops have machines let into them so you can't have a drink without there being the opportunity to lose a few dollars.

Police are everywhere, as you would expect when there are people staggering around with large amounts of cash on them. In one bar a man was sitting handcuffed on the floor as security waited for the cops to turn up. Seemingly oblivious, the punters played the slots around him. In another casino a soul band were doing some excellent covers to an audience of about 12 people. - a seemingly thankless task, but, like true professionals, they gave it their all. A few more beers and it is was 3am and I was eating again ..... damn!

Later that morning I got my car back from valet parking (odd feeling paying someone $3 to drive away in your vehicle) and headed for Yosemite.

I took the scenic route round the southern end of Lake Tahoe. The sun was scorching, but it got cooler the higher I climbed into the mountains. The views just get more spectacular and the smell of the pine forest has now been joined by that of sagebrush. Just over the summit, Lake Mono came into view which was jaw dropping. Headed down into the basin and am now holed up in a little motel which smells of cinnamon and coffee as it has a coffee shop attached in the small town of Lee Vining.

Tomorrow I am going to tackle Yosemite. I can see the snow capped mountains from my room as I type.