Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Kansan In the Canyon (Fifth and Final Leg)

With the Grand Canyon conquered, I moved on to Petrified Forest National Park. The German man in the black jacket wanted to punch my lights out but I bonded with the enthusiastic tour guide.

I'm a petroglyph geek.

Is there life on Mars?

They know how to write a headline in Arizona. And terrestrial radio provided hour after hour of outstanding entertainment on my return trip. Monitoring Navajo and Hopi radio proved fascinating. "Tradio" is never less than hilarious. The NCAA tournament had also begun.

As I sat in Albuquerque's rush hour traffic I realized that it's a place I could happily call home. Later in the trip, I discovered that Oklahoma City has almost completely caught up with Kansas City. They deserve their NBA team.

In a previous life I felt like I owned Amarillo. It's the site of many of my most rewarding professional triumphs. The thick fog that enveloped the city was appropriate. I mustn't live in the past.

There's no place like home.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Kansan In the Canyon (Fourth Leg)

The race was on. Would I make it to The Grand Canyon before sunset? I covered a lot of ground but succeeded in beating the clock.

It's truly breathtaking.

And it's surreal- everything seems almost too perfect.

The key to fully enjoying the experience is getting off the beaten path.

Perhaps the natural beauty brings out the best in people. Myself excluded, almost all of the park's visitors- the ratio was equal parts American, European and Japanese- are ridiculously kind and friendly. (I'll pretend my unfortunate encounter with a French-Canadian never happened.)

The on-site hotels were out of my price range, but I was delighted to discover that some of the park's facilities- including this cafeteria- haven't been updated in decades. Hello 1972!

Obligatory animal shot.

Here's my dirty little secret: I often suspected that the whole thing is a fake. It might be a colossal trompe-l'oeil.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Kansan In the Canyon (Third Leg)

I left Taos in style by crossing the dizzying Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. It's a perfect spot for jumping if you're so inclined.

I'm not a fan of Thomas Kinkade's kitsch, but driving across northern Arizona made me realize that the postcard-perfect pastoral scenes he often depicts actually exist.

Where's my snowboard?

The constantly changing landscape of U.S. 64 is amazing.

This shot was taken within minutes of the previous two.

Ship Rock in the Navajo Nation is quite the landmark.

I wanted to cross Utah off my list. That's my excuse for visiting the miserable Four Corners tourist trap. It's a sad place. Still, that's 40 down, 10 to go...

Spectacular? Yes, but the best is yet to come.

A Kansan In the Canyon (Second Leg)

The real fun began in New Mexico.

I took in the dinosaur tracks at Clayton Lake State Park.

Members of the anti-evolution set have attempted to rewrite the explanatory texts.

Had I known that the path around the rim at Capulin Volcano was covered with ice, I wouldn't have attempted the hike. Scary! The vistas, however, were worth the trouble.

An inspection of The Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park gave me much-needed perspective.

Spending two nights in Taos was a mistake. I'd always wanted to experience the town. I reckoned it was an ideal match for my sensibilities. Maybe that was true twenty years ago. The place just irritates me now.

With its crass tourist trappings, Taos is no more than a laughably pretentious version of Branson, Missouri. And there's a palpable tension in the air. While shopping for groceries at Albertson's, I witnessed open hostility between angry, disillusioned anarchists and Volvo-driving richies. It was an ugly scene.

Still, there's no denying Taos' gorgeous setting. Fun in the snow provided a welcome respite from rancorous humans.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Kansan In the Canyon (First Leg)

2,772 miles.

That's the length of the road trip I just completed.

I'd hoped to visit a glamorous location like Berlin or Buenos Aires for spring break, but the global economic crisis nixed that dream. Still, my traveling jones must be sated.

A trek to the Grand Canyon was my fallback plan. Not bad, right?

There's a catch. The quality of life in the Kansas City area is great until it's time to escape. We're surrounded by hundreds of miles of empty space. All that time behind the wheel made my head and back ache. Still, I enjoyed every mile once I learned to pop Aleve and Tylenol like candy.

The trip began with an obligatory visit to kin in western Kansas. The state's back roads are the only way to go.

I finally made it to Oklahoma. I drove through the state's panhandle at night. Staring at the stars was a mystical experience. I'd forgotten that the night sky seems three dimensional and eerily alive without the veil of urban lights.

Restaurants and upscale hotels weren't an option. Food came from grocery stores and sleep was found at relatively inexpensive motels.