Sunday, October 22, 2017

Eastward Bound: UT to NC - Day Five - Nashville, TN. On the Music Highway

This is the sixth entry of a multi-entry series.

Before I moved to America, almost 20 years ago, I grew up on American music, especially rock 'n' roll, blues, and of course country. Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Kenny Rogers, Willie, Dolly, Elvis, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles are all childhood memories that later became obsessions. 

With that heritage, driving the Music Highway between Memphis and Nashville, TN listening to Old Country or Oldies radio stations gives you an eerie feeling of deja-vu, and a melancholy about times when your now old former DJ dad taught you about such treasures. I wished dad was in the car with me today about fifty times, so we can listen to all this music while driving the places it was created in, at least part of it, together, and we can understand how it came about. How and why these hills and these towns caused it to happen. 

One of the stations even had a Beatles history on, and that made me miss dad even more. 

Would you believe that I lived in The Carolinas for 12 years before and I never once stepped foot in Tennessee?! Well, I didn't, but I vow to remedy such a sin just as soon as I settle back down in my old Carolina state! I just have to come back and experience Nashville and Memphis both, go to a couple of concerts and try out the food. Cannot wait to be back! 

Tennessee is much like any other Southern state: green, lush, mellow, kind of a rambling, long and steady road cutting through its heart, carrying you places, through farmlands, kudzu covered forests, cotton fields, wide rivers and large lakes. But the music landmarks give it its unique personality. 

Leaving Little Rock, AR you run into this immense church right on the highway. Looks like a palace. It is a Pentecostal church, and today, being Sunday, it looked packed and full of life. 

The road between Memphis and Nashville is littered with music mementos like these. 

We slept through a thunderstorm in Little Rock, last night. The skies were still crazy lookin' when we left this morning. 

Rushed and overcast Memphis skyline.

Every other billboard has a Southernism in it. A 'y'all', 'ole', or 'yonder'. We even saw a sign to pull over for 'whiskey and shine'. Yeah, we're home, all right! 

Memphis and the great Mississippi 

Crossing into Tennessee and over the Mississippi. 

Memphis, TN

Kudzu country

Welcome to Nashville, TN

As I was pulling into Nashville, this song came on the radio to welcome me. I will leave you with it. One of my all time favorites, for sure. 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Eastward Bound: UT to NC – Day Four– Little Rock, AR. Trees! Trees! Trees!

This is the fifth entry of a multi-entry series.

If Western Oklahoma is windy and red-yellow-sandy, Western Oklahoma is lush green and full of trees! Almost no wind, either. I suppose because of the trees. One of the reasons we're moving back to The South is vegetation. We both love the desert, and we agree it has its beauty. However, the stark nakedness of it makes you miss the green after a while. 

After several days of driving through the mountainous deserts of Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico, and the semi-desert of Western Oklahoma, we finally saw much longed trees today, almost the entire way into Arkansas, except for the first couple of hours of driving through Oklahoma. 

While in the dry, naked Oklahoma, we saw skies of menace which reminded us of Kansas seven years ago, when driving towards Utah. Tornado skies are something else - menacing is an understatement. They are a universe all of their own selves. The little lady at a gas station, sporting a Michigan sweatshirt, congratulated us for getting out of there "before the storm and the gusts start". We were grateful, too. A car is an evil thing to manage when the wind pulls it all directions. 

Like a patchwork of American history, Oklahoma is home to many Native tribes. Today we passed through the homes of many Native Nations: Chickasaw, Kickapoo, Seminole, Muskogee (Creek). This is always a rare treat to me, as this, to me, is the real America. It makes me respectful and so grateful that they share their land with us. 

As we approached the Eastern states, even starting yesterday, the weather has gotten warmer and warmer and more and more humid. It's strange that most of the trees in Arkansas and for the most part in Oklahoma, too, have not even turned colors yet – it's past the middle of October. When is the fall starting here?!

Today, for the first time, I heard cicadas when we pulled in for the night in the Little Rock, AR KOA campground. Such a familiar and long missed sound. So soothing to me … For the first time today, we also turned on the A/C in the camper, instead of the heater. Yay – we're in the South! Not our South yet, but it counts.

Driving today was harder than any other day, and not sure why. The altitude has gotten lower and lower and the wind died down eventually towards the end of the day, but the day seemed longer and dragging …

I was so excited to come through Arkansas, the home state of one of my favorite US Presidents (and he is not Republican!). And I was so shocked that even after being through Texas, Arkansas was the first state on this trip to sport a bigger than life "Trump - Make America Great Again" billboard. I was so disappointed, I did not even take a picture. Some things are better to remain uncaptured. 

I always thought Arkansas is a poor state. But looking at the lush green highways that remind you of the Rhine Valley, you would not know it. Stepping inside of one of the communities, with broken roads, and missing street signs, with poor gas stations almost cracking from age and humidity, with leaky appliances and toothless attendants remind you that you thought right. People are ever so nice, though, and such nice, yielding drivers, too

Some camping notes: we see people from all over the country in all these KOAs we're staying at. Seems like mostly older, retired people and all states are represented. KOA campgrounds are magical places – you have running water and electricity just like you would at home. It's such a treat. Thus, the A/C tonight. Hot shower in our own private shower, every morning, night lights and a place to charge all our electronics are some of the luxuries. I sometimes (only sometimes) I get how people can be into the whole tiny living thing. We really are missing very little. Well, besides space, of course.

Gypsy-the-Cat has gotten to have his own routine. He sleeps during our drive in his kennel in my car, and he comes out to the camper for lunch (midway during the day), then goes back to snoozing for the remainder of the drive. He mostly sleeps and eats at night. We found out that even if the litter doesn't smell to us at all, the ammonia in the litter can set off the carbon monoxide sensor in the camper (which is 2 feet away from his litter box). Who knew?!

We also found out that although KOAs may say "full hookups", sometimes, they run out of water. But we have had our emergency supply handy, so we were good. Our neighbors, not so much. 

We're two full days away from our final destination, but having gotten four of the days behind us feels great, albeit incredibly tiring. I do believe we will take the first day we get to North Carolina to just sleep it off … But who knows … “miles to go before I sleep” yet. 

The dark skies before the Oklahoma storm 

On the Western (windy and barren) side of Oklahoma, all trees have this shape, because the winds twists them so 

If I had a dollar for every truck, billboard, sign I have seen through Oklahoma announcing that this is the land of American beef ... I would make it out OK, I think ... 

Oklahoma City skyline. All I could think about driving by it was "The Oklahoma City bomber" 

After a looonggg drive for days through the desert of many states we came to this, largest body of water we had seen for a while. I chuckled when I saw the name of the road right past it: it was Lotawatah Road. And this is a true story! 

Arkansas is like a perpetual park: I have never seen so many National Parks, National Monuments, State Parks one after another within a short distance like in Arkansas

I could not get enough of these trees! 

I never understood this American staple: this is a water park with a giant water slide. They are always, no matter what state, right over the very busy highways! Why some architects deem them picturesque and delightful right next to rush hour traffic is beyond my understanding! 

Bridge over the highway in Oklahoma City

What is the first sandwich I make when I get to my camp site in Little Rock, AR with cicadas chanting outside and dripping sweat from too much humidity?! Why, a tomato sandwich, of course. Yes, I am home. Let The South begin! 

Friday, October 20, 2017

Eastward Bound: UT to NC – Day Three – Elk City, OK. Get Your Kicks on ... the Windy High Plains

This is the fourth entry of a multi-entry series.
We left Albuquerque, NM around 10 this morning. Seen from the gallop of the car, Albuquerque reminds me of the "normal" part of Vegas: desert and full of brown stucco homes. Albuquerque is tucked under beautiful tall, steep mountains, almost as steep and as green as the Hawaii mountains. 

The Eastern part of New Mexico is a high desert, with very little vegetation, and lots of ups and down. And lots and lots of winds ... And then, we crossed into Texas. 

I have sworn that I would never bring myself to the "Great State of Texas", but here I was, willing or not, crossing the Texas panhandle. I had so many preconceived notions about Texas: will there be all cows and cowboys? People carrying guns and chasing everyone everywhere with bad intent in mind?! Will cops stop me just because they are bored and fine me just 'cause? Will there be huge Texas flags with 'Stay out or we shoot you' writing everywhere? Will every gas station sell guns and liquor?! Will Christian billboards take over the entire state?! And so forth. 

Well, I still don't know some of the answers to all these preconceived notions and questions, but here's what I found out during our drive of a few hours today: Texas is also very windy. No fun pulling a camper in the high winds, let me tell you. Or let Aa. tell you. We were still in high elevations of 3000 ft or more, although it all seemed flat. The radio spoke about "The High Plains", so I guess that's what the Northern part of Texas is: a high plain. There were farms everywhere, and sometimes, nothing for a long time, and then a farm in the middle of that nothing. All I could think of was that farms here must be thousand of acres wide, because there was literally nothing but a farmhouse, and stables, with cow round-ups adjacent to them ever so often. 

I thought Amarillo would be larger than it was. I-40 was lined up by cheesy billboards of all kinds of normal and weird announcements. I will let the pictures speak for themselves on that. 

We stopped at this tiny (and I mean minuscule) gas station with ONE pump. The small cottage servicing it screamed 'Texas' (look for the pictures to understand why). 

Yes, there was the Texas flag and the Texas Star everywhere they could find a place for them - and this was just what I could see from the speed of driving down the Interstate. 

One thing that totally baffled me was that the entire length of the Texas panhandle was literally lined with giant windmills. I was waiting for an end of them, but there was not one. It made me wonder: if Texas gets it, why isn't the entire American wide, un-populated land filled with these beauties, making electricity for all of us?! Not that Texas would be lesser than other states, but they tend to be less ... hip and up on embracing modern technologies than other states. Typically. 

In the later afternoon, we crossed into Oklahoma. I swear people who cut up the States at some point paid very close attention to their geography: it seems the states are very carefully cut up to be very distinctive and unique in themselves: as soon as the red rock of Utah ends and the yellow and brown stone starts, Utah turns into Colorado. Such, as soon as the yellow sand of Texas ends, and the red clay and lush green of Oklahoma starts, there you have a new state. 

Oklahoma must have some law against the cheesy billboards, because as soon as left Texas, they were gone. The interstate resembled Northern Germany more than South Carolina. The farms were lush and green and very manicured lands, compared to the mish-mash in Texas. The wind was stronger. Well, it IS Oklahoma, you know. The roads are better here, too, than anywhere else we have been in the past two days. 

Apart from being windy, the windiest yet, Oklahoma is also the most humid yet. The temperature has been hanging out in the 80's all day here, and it is humid, even now, into the night, with the windows wide open. A sign we're getting closer and closer to The South, I am sure. 

We are down for the night in Elk City, OK. Right on the highway, so this will make it for a very windy and noisy (from the traffic) night. 

In Tucumcari, NM, we had lunch at Denny's. Our waitress, CC, was blown away that the two sides that came with my tilapia had to be both mashed potatoes. She told me to watch for diabetes. 

The smallest gas station in America, probably. Can you tell what state we were in?! 

This Oklahoma sunset was greeting us at out campsite when we pulled in tonight. 

As I am passing this exist, The Eagles' "Tequila Sunrise" is coming on the radio. True story! 

Our ride today was in its entirety on Historic Route 66. We only saw two hitchhikers (a sign that Kerouac's time have changed), but it made me think back of the history, nonetheless. A piece of Americana that I am grateful to say I have partaken in. 

Solitary ranch in Texas. 

The many tens of miles of Texan windmills - the entire length of the Panhandle, for sure. 

I took this for a friend: Adrian, your town in Texas. 

The many 'interesting' Texas billboards. 

Texas cotton fields. 

Texas: where America's burgers come from. 

A rushed look at Amarillo. 

After watching "Dallas" (the series) as a child, I thought that white split rail fences were invented in Texas. I am still not sure that is the case, but we have seen lots of them today. 

Everything is supposed to be bigger in Texas, and this cross is testimony to that. Look at the size of the building next to it! 

Almost the first sign of real water for a long, long time now - right as we crossed into Oklahoma. 

The red clay of Oklahoma: it is very unique: sort of a copper meets manure shade of red. 

Eastward Bound: UT to NC – Day Two – Albuquerque, NM. High and Winding

This is the third entry of a multi-entry series.

I wonder why one needs so many churches in the desert. We drove today from Moab to Albuquerque, NM, in full desert landscape and I have seen no WalMarts, no full service grocery stores, but plenty of churches. I guess you can go hungry and miss basic necessities, as long as your soul is saved. 

We're definitely not in Mormon Country anymore, as there have been no LDS churches to speak of. "Church of God", "Of Immaculate Conceptions", even a "Stoic Baptist Church", even a "Holy Ghost Recreating Area", but no "Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints."

You also know you're not in Utah anymore because of all the "Cold Beer" and "Cold Wine" signs on all the gas stations, and because of all the casinos. I suspect gambling is very much legal in New Mexico judging by all the casinos on the way down. I know pot is also legal in New Mexico, because of the "Minerva Cannabis Dispensary" in Bernalillo. 

Right after leaving Moab, you go past beautiful red rock canyons, still, and the Wilson Arch, magnificent, almost above the highway. Then, right after Monticello, you see so many killed deer on the side of the road you're thinking the old times fur traders are roaming about back in business. Right as you cross the state border into Colorado, the land becomes milder and greener - lots of farmland, very nicely kept. There is only a short distance from Cortez, CO to the border with New Mexico. Once you enter New Mexico, the land becomes desert and empty again, but more yellow than red.  

We were misinformed some and the trip was much harder than we expected, because the roads were so hilly. I thought the land will slope down right after we leave Utah, but no chance: we were in the 5500+ (all the way to 7000) feet elevation the entire trip. That and the winds were hard on the camper. 

Native American landmarks swap up with Hispanic names - you cross three major Native reservations (Ute, Navajo and Apache) during this trip, and many other smaller ones. Then, in New Mexico, you run across names like Rio Puerco, Rio Grande, Bernalillo, Sadoval. 

We walked into a Wendy's for lunch and the place was full of Native people - staff and customers alike. We were definitely out of place. Leonard Cohen was blasting on their radio (or whatever music device they had). 

This country is so mixed, so diverse, and so gorgeous because of it that it always makes me humble and fortunate to roam it like this. Whoever sees it otherwise are lower than plain stupid. 

Off we are on our third day today and ready to cross the great state of Texas. 
Catch with you later on ... 

PS: Please forgive any and all typos, due to the hardships of writing against the gun of the internet being taken away. 

I thought the road sign next to the entering Colorado marker was appropriate: what we have seen of this state in the Four Corners region is nothing but beautiful farmland.

The most majestic Shiprock formation, outside of the town that bears its name, in new Mexico. It looks like a New York skyscraper. 

All around Farmington, NM, we saw these gorgeous Native pots.

Wilson Arch, a few miles South of Moab. I love how the rock has little dimples through which the sun pierces.

Hard to believe that we have reached I-40 East which will take us ALL the way to NC! No turns from here on out. Just a straight drive.

One of the many churches in the desert.

Made it to the Albuquerque KOA for the night. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Eastward Bound: UT to NC – Day One – Moab, UT. Red Rocks

This is the second entry of a multi-entry series.

This is the map of our journey with the stops on the way. And yes, we are actually going through Texas, which is something I told myself I would never get to do ... 

Off we are truly now on the way to NC. This is the second time I am doing this trip, between UT and NC, and this is Aa's third time. Today was our shortest day, a little over 3 hours of driving.

I drive alone in the car, except for Gypsy-The-Cat, and there is lots of time to think, reflect and ponder upon everything, really. We have made the trip between Spanish Fork and Moab numerous times in the past seven years, so today I had plenty of time to think back of all the memories. People we took the trip with, spots on the way where we stopped for lunch, camping, or just to shoot this beautiful place. Turns in the road off to other places we visited. It's all sad, and good, and grateful. I keep wondering when I will see these places again, if ever at all.

It's a gorgeous time of the year to be making this trip – not too cold (except for nighttime), not too hot either. Today, we drove East and South with the sun blinding us the whole time. It's a warm, Indian summer kind of weather – my absolute favorite. The leaves are not all the way turned in Moab, but what are, they are screaming yellow.

These are just a very few of the many pictures I shot while driving behind our camper, and trying to keep the wheel from throwing me at the cement walls lining the winding mountain highways.

Our 'Last Supper' last night was Indian food, at Tadka, in Payson. You locals, make sure you keep them in business. Kindest people ever and some of the best food! 

Good bye, beautiful rocky cliffs! 

Our camper ('The Pup') approaching red rocks. 

Entering Moab, one (maybe) last time ... 

The desert in the fall. 

We made it to our first KOA (ever, together, and on this trip). 

Our caravan at our campsite

Our view for lunch, from our camper - towards the rocks of Moab. 

In a long sigh, I am bidding a melancholy 'good bye' to the gorgeous state that has been our home for the past seven years.