Archive for the ‘Southwest’ Category
You know you’re in for an underwhelming museum experience when the docent at the entrance greets you with “We don’t have a lot of exhibits right now.”
There’s a lot to read and very little to see at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California, where Nobel Prize-winning novelist John Steinbeck…I dunno. Was born? Grew up? Went to school? I was unable to differentiate, assimilate and process what I wanted from the barrage of words and pictures and plastic dioramas that make up the permanent collection, all competing for attention.
Since the exhibit hall is essentially set up for children to enjoy, this should be easier.
I had a choice to make upon leaving the Alumafiesta Airstream event in Tucson. Drive north an hour to the Biosphere research facility and educate myself about Earth systems planning and policy? Or slog east toward El Paso on the I-10 to Dragoon, Arizona?
No contest. I went to see The Thing.
Every driver passing through the Southwest has seen the garish yellow billboards that command you to go to The Thing. As you near fabled Exit 322, they come fast and furious, dominating the scenery. “Mystery of the Desert” the signs proclaim. “Have You Seen It?” they tantalize.
My diagnosis came during Alumafiesta.
I was sitting in a computer repair shop in the bad part of Tucson, waiting for my iPhone to be resurrected after it fell headfirst into the toilet at LazyDays RV Park. Leafing through a GQ, I came upon an article about an interesting new disorder that I now know I have: FOMO.
Fear of Missing Out. The tongue-in-cheek article detailed the anxiety and self loathing you experience from overconsuming social media and discovering with every click (or swipe or flick) that your friends and acquaintances are having more fun than you are.
“On the road again…” Without fail I sing that out loud when I put the 4-Runner in drive with the Airstream in tow. This trip, Ralph was spared (left behind to continue shaping young minds at COCC), but I had Raven by my side as I embarked on a long-ish journey through the Southwest.
Among other activities, I was researching the lesser-known fossil dig sites of the West for a magazine article. My first order of business was to study up on the geology of Nevada. First stop, Reno…and the nearby Nevada State Museum in Carson City.
Despite the terrible online reviews, I overnighted at the Silver Sage RV Park in Reno.
My mom and dad—married 65 years and counting—still live in the POS town in California where I went to high school, an hour’s drive north of Santa Barbara (which sounds far tonier than it is).
It’s also near Solvang, the ersatz Danish community where tourists flock to buy abelskivers and crap from the Thomas Kinkade gallery. Six miles further lies the promised land: the smoke-choked but otherwise upscale Chumash Casino.
My parents, frequent flyers of the resort, drag me there when I return home to visit. This trip to Chumash had three saving graces.
Later: “Donner, party of 84…” (And so on. Ha! I never tire of this joke, once told by restaurant lounge cover bands who used to call names when tables were ready.)
Returning from Bend during a holiday snowstorm on the Santiam Pass (my knuckles are still white), the subject of the ill-fated Donner party arose. What would that trip have been like without a heated, 4WD, 8 cylinder SUV with traction tires?
Well, it was unpleasant.
Everyone from California has driven by the Olive Pit fifty times. Located in Corning, the “Olive Capitol of the World”, (Spain, Italy, or Greece may take umbrage at that) in the blasting hot flatlands north of Sacramento, Olive Pit is the Wall Drug of the west.
The general attitude has always been “move along people, there’s nothing to see here” but I was rapidly approaching friends, in whose driveway I would be camping and upon whom I would soon be mooching. I complied with signs demanding that I take exit 631, confident I’d find a hostess gift, pull-through parking for the Airstream, and a bathroom.
Unless you live under a rock, you’ve heard of Burning Man, the annual art festival slash summer camp for adults in the Black Rock Desert north of Reno, Nevada.
In the weeks leading to my departure several fifty-something friends confessed that they’ve wanted to see it for themselves but have felt too intimidated to attend “that thing in the desert”. I concur; it’s difficult to get mentally and physically organized for Burning Man if you’re a grown adult not surrounded by peers who have been or are coming with you.
For the “virgin burner”, shopping and preparing can be daunting and confusing; it’s the packing equivalent to extreme boondock camping, seven day Halloween party, and week-long potluck.
The Utah scenery abruptly vanished when the wind kicked up and created a brownout of smoke and grit from Provo to Ogden so thick we could barely see the huge temple in downtown SLC. People everywhere were apologizing. (“It’s never like this!”) A crusty guy in line at the gas station convenience store reported that “one of the islands in the lake”—what on earth could he have been talking about—was on fire due to a lightning strike.
When a state park is downgraded to a county park it falls into a bureaucratic black hole for a period, making it impossible to find online or otherwise. Such was the fate of Fort Buenaventura, which we finally discovered hidden behind the railroad yard.
Sorry California. You too, Colorado. In the scenery smackdown, Utah is the clear victor.
My conspiracy theory is that Utah pays New Mexico to be a disorganized empty lot so it can be even that much more attractive by comparison. Almost immediately northwest of Four Corners the attitude brightens and the landscape gets increasingly more striking as you near Moab, which is home to what looked from the freeway to be one of the prettiest KOAs in the West.
Surreal Arches will require a second visit to stop and camp overnight at Devils Garden. (I would love to know how many natural areas in the U.S. have the word “devil” in their name).