arizona

Solo Road Trip as Rite of Passage: Get Your Kicks, Grand Canyon + Route 66

While one of my concerns going into his trip was being harassed by truckers, it was a woman in Page, AZ who slapped my ass as I walked into the bar / bowling alley / lunch spot. This kind of shit doesn’t really phase me anymore, but it was a bit surprising getting these really insane comments about my ass in the middle of the day. And then she literally slapped it as I walked back inside to fill my water bottle. I had just picked up my travel buddy for the remainder of the trip, Bridget, and she also got a little verbal action. Yeesh. Moving right along.

We said our good byes to Oscar (the guide mentioned in the last post) and then drove over to the Glen Canyon Dam at his recommendation. The quick pit stop was worth it for the sweet views and delayed us enough to create the most magical accident later but more on that in a moment

Glen Canyon Dam

The drive was delightful although a little nervous at first. Gas prices in Paige were nuts so we waited a ways before stopping to fuel up and ended up at an adorable gas station complete with jerky, tea and free stickers. The second time a woman insisted I keep my dollars in case of emergency on the road. I now have a sweet Grand Canyon sticker on my yellow notebook and I think of her a lot.

GRAND CANYON

After many miles of snacks and singing, we eventually made our way to the Grand Canyon South Rim BY ACCIDENT. I had not realized that Google’s route to Williams, AZ (where we would be camping the next two nights) went through the Canyon entrance and it just so happened to be sunset. It was so fucking beautiful I almost cried. Actually I might have cried. Yet another moment of perfect synchronicity. Every little delay made the trip more and more charmed. Made every little stroke of luck feel like magic. Made me wonder why we don’t live like this. Following. In flow. Instead of trying to smash things into place.

While sunset in the Grand Canyon was 100% worth it, the traffic getting out of the canyon at that time was insane. Unrelated, I’m pretty sure a bat flew past us, but I couldn’t quite see. Needless to say, we arrived at the camp ground way later than we expected to. We stopped for dinner and after a lot of pure darkness driving on a dirt road, we finally found the camp ground and the flashlights I brought came in very handy as we poked around in the dark. 

Grand Canyon South Rim

Our tent didn’t zip up, but rather used little clips which was a super fun discovery as the desert cold crept up on us and I was very grateful for the fleece set up I purchased over at REI. We passed out at 8:30 PM. The next morning we awoke bright and early with the rising sun and caught a meditation sesh with the heat of the car. After a few delays and a trip to the visitor center, we settled on Horseshoe Canyon for our hike. A more challenging hike with less foot traffic and zero donkeys. I never really knew what hiking path descriptions were talking about when they mentioned a copious amount of “switchbacks” but now I certainly do. They are zig-zaggy bits that help you get down really steep ass sections of mountain rock. Fuck me gently. 

The day was gorgeous, and we were surrounded by other worldly rocks, turning leaves, evergreens, we even saw a hawk dive the fuck down from the sky towards some sort of prey. Nature. Majesty. Etc. The thing about hiking the Grand Canyon is that the uphill part is on your way back. So the hard part is last. People die because they underestimate how long it will take to get back. I obviously didn’t die, but I was CONCERNED when it felt like we were the last folks on the trail heading back.

After 6 hours, we finally made it back to the trailhead. I don’t think I had ever been more tired. When we gazed back at how far we traveled, I was very fucking impressed. We rewarded ourselves with $2 8 minute showers. It was my first shower in 3 days and honestly the best $2 I had ever spent. My hair was clean, my body was warm, I used a flannel as a towel. Truly thriving. On our way out of the park there were hella elks trooping around. Big papa with his horns. Big mama nomming with the babes. It was a wonderland of large mammals. On our way back to camp, we stopped for dinner at a spot called Yippee-I -O and it was the perfect touristy cheese fest we were hoping for. We drank some local beers and then called it a day.

ROUTE 66

Next morning, bright and early once again, we took off towards the Yucca Valley. Time to dominate the Historic Route 66. We had a few stops along the way. First we stopped in Seligman. Cute little tourist spot. Time to pee and peek in the gifts shops and chat with some folks on a bus tour. We stopped for lunch at a diner in Kingman which was adorable. We had Dr. Peppers and patty melts. My stomach did not love me on this trip.

After fueling up, we went through the Black Mountains. MY DUDE. I was not prepared for this. This was a very narrow, steep and winding part of the road that went straight through the mountains and I understand why they built the more modern highway elsewhere. After 15 minutes straight of hugging the meridian, We made it to Sitgreaves Pass which was a memorial for the ashes of local folks. You park your car and walk to the edge where dozens of marked memorial spots reside. I straight up thought we might have hit a graveyard, but the ground was pure rock so that was a quick no. ANYWAYS, as you know by now I love hanging with dead people so it was very cool to be like what’s up in this very special place. All these little memorials were decorated so cute like people probably come and hang and pour one out for their homies and it felt like a tender happy sadness kind of like the Mexican cemetery in Santa Fe. 

Around the bend, we hit Oatman, Arizona, the most touristy little ghost town you ever did see. Hella burros (donkeys), trinket tourist stores littered with Jesus and gun paraphernalia in such a way it screamed “why, yes, this is very much a red state.” (Literally there were two signs right next to each other which I essence said “Jesus + kindness” and “DON’T YOU FUCKING TAKE MY GUNS”). Oh, America. 

After loading up on gas and snacks (and word to the wise, if you’re headed from AZ to CA make sure you get gas in AZ because it’s twice as expensive in CA), we drove past the border, into Needles, past the Mohave Desert through some of the most desolate shit I have ever seen. It was magic. We stopped in Goffs which might have been my favorite part of the day. This was a fully abandoned city, a true ghost town. As we explored some of the structures, Bridget casually mentioned, “watch out, there might be rattlesnakes.” Cool. We saw a sign for an old saloon, what appeared to be a diner / grocery store and a row of old mailboxes. We kept driving along past abandoned railroad tracks and old decaying tractor parts. Houses and shacks that stood like graves and memorials on the way to the next marker of civilization. 

Just before we arrived in Twentynine Palms, we stumbled upon what I now know are referred to as salt flats off of CA-127. We saw a couple park and check it out so we decided we wouldn’t die. This is where Bridget took the dope picture that now graces the banner of my homepage. As you can see, it was a bonkers beautiful crystal paradise. We had no idea what it was, but guessed it must be salt since I saw a sign that said sodium chloride earlier, and then Bridget tasted it to make sure, the brave lady. We also heard loud booming sounds which may or may not have been explosions which led me to believe they may have been mines? EDIT: after more research I’ve discovered it’s a dry lake called Bristol Lake!

After that last stop, we made out way towards the Yucca Valley seeing hippie ass houses and domes over a magical fucking sunset. We picked up tacos and tamales at a spot called Artega’s spending I swear like $4 each and met up with our hosts for the evening, a baller couple that consisted of a lawyer / activist and jazz musician where we enjoyed a bed and a bathroom to prep for the next day in Joshua Tree.

Check out part 6: The Tree of Life + the Journey Home

Go back to part 4: Challenges + Reservations

Solo Road Trip as Rite of Passage: Challenges + Reservations

Santa Fe sunrise

I hit the road late the next morning, taking the time to catch the sunrise and organize and inevitably run a little bit behind schedule. I also bled on the sheets and had to clean them although my rock star host was like, “sweetie, you’re not the first and you won’t be the last.” Rock on.

First stop was the New Mexico Public Lands Information Center to pick up a physical map I didn’t end up needing, but am glad I have. I had heard that navigation got kind of spotty in the reservations, but I no issues with it at all so take that hours of research!

KASHA KATWE TENT ROCKS

By 9:30 AM I was in the Cochiti Reservation in the eeriest fog I had seen yet. A few days away from Halloween / Samhain / Die de los Muertos, this very literal veil covering the landscape delighted me. I was en route to the  Kasha Katwe Tent Rocks and growing concerned about visibility. Maybe I should just turn around and head straight to Albuquerque, I thought as the mist thickened around me. But I was so close and it would be fun and cool regardless. I paid the $5 entrance fee and the young man at the gate assured me I’d have a cozy hike with minimal other humans. My favorite.

Equipped with my very cool person’s hiking poles, I’m off on my way. The tent rocks are these very cool rock formations formed over ancient vocation eruptions and trekking through the fog with them and these massive trees with exposed roots and ravens flying overhead felt like a weird Poe-esque western and I was about it, baby. I ran into a few families and couples on my way. There’s a really lovely greeting that happens between people at national parks. It’s like we all know we’re here to appreciate the fucking majesty of nature and so every exchange is infused with love and respect even if it’s just a simple “good morning.” I fucking love that.

Okay, so I’m moving along, climbing through little cave like bits and then up and up this steeper rock formation towards the end and the most amazing thing happens. As I get to the top, THE FUCKING FOG LIFTS to reveal a crystal clear blue sky. I lost my shit. I started singing “I See the Light” from Tangled. Like running late this morning was pushing me to get the timing on this just right. I miss that feeling. Of trusting and feeling in flow with what is outside of me. That is what I chase. It was incredible to have it that day. Like seeing all the threads of the tapestry connecting. Zooming out. Big Picture.

And what a picture it was. I mean, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. Little tiny villages of big ass pointy tipped rocks. Layers and centuries and time and space interweaving and building infinitely. What a tiny speck a human life is compared to the enduring minerals entrenched here. Surprisingly, I caught some reception at the top and FaceTimed my mom who had tried reaching me earlier when I lost service. She was both puzzled, pleased and worried that I was at the top of a mountain alone.

Kasha Katwe Tent Rocks

The hike back down felt like a completely different place. The sunshine fed me, the trees and rocks spoke. I could listen. I could hear. I posted a poem about it, but a tree showed me the apocalypse. Where the humans were dead, and the mountains and trees remained. It reminded me of “All of Everything Erased.” I wondered if Kevine Devine spoke to trees, too. I realize this shit sounds crazy, and even more so since coming back and reintegrating into city life, but feeling self conscious and “othered” by these experiences and connections is fucking exhausting. In tarot, the Page of Cups calls us back to seeing the unseeable. It’s the child’s creative and connective spirit. I’m so afraid of appearing illogical, I sometime suffocate the parts of me that bring me the most joy. I’m so grateful to have found her in this place.

I stopped for tacos in Alburquerque. I didn’t have a ton of time since I wanted to make it to the last tour at Sky City at 3:30, but the few minutes I spent at the counter with my server, Annie, were delightful. How is it that every server in New Mexico made me feel so well taken care of?

ACOMA PUEBLO - SKY CITY

After a giant helping of speeding, I made it with 7 minutes to spare for the final tour of the Acoma Pueblo. The oldest continuously inhabited community in the United State (since 1150 ACE), Acoma is also know as “sky city” as it resides on the top of a 365 foot mesa. Our tour guide gave us detailed accounts of the communities history, the current supplemental residences in nearby towns, and was ever so patient when the middle aged white couple on the tour said things like, “but you don’t have to pay property taxes, right?” Responding oh so calmly, “no, we pay taxes just like every other US citizen.” 

As part of the tour, local artists has their pottery on display. For tours like this, it’s part of the deal to support the local economy. They’re graciously allowing tourists into their home. The least you can do is buy something straight from the source. I felt terrible being judgey about it, but I have to say it really bothered me that the white couple checked out every counter, and asked to take pictures, but didn’t buy a single item. (And it clearly wan’t a money thing because they were talking about buying property in Colorado.) I purchased a few things, but my favorite item that I kept for myself was a bear made with a horse hair technique that gives the piece intricate lined designs. Irvin Louis, the artist, held my hand and told me he hoped it would give me strength, power and courage. It now lives on my besides altar.

Throughout the pueblo, white ladders lean against buildings, granting men entrance to the kivas, rooms used for religious purposes. (The kivas are the only property owned by men, as the Acoma are a matrilineal people). The ladders allow access to the kivas and symbolize the connection between worlds. Some of them seemed to absorb the brightness of the sun. The perfection and power of the connection lies in its simplicity. It’s a beautiful thing. 

As stunning as the ladders were, the most powerful presence for me was a single cottonwood tree beside a small water source. I walked over and placed a hand on the soft bark and instantly felt a surge of energy. Like every part of me was being filled with thought and history and feeling. Like this tree was willingly giving me the centuries of love, heartbreak, death, destruction and resilience it had witnessed. I let go and walked away feeling kind of nuts. As the feeling faded, I turned back and watched the leaves shimmer. I heard them rattle as if saying, try again if you don’t believe it. I did and the same current moved through me, opening my heart and the eye that sees beyond this plane. I walked back to join my group and met eyes with one of the artists. “That tree is… powerful,” I managed to spit out. “Mmm hmm,” she replied with a knowing look.

At the end of the tour, we were taken to the cemetery and church. I’m still reeling from the tree like a very normal fairy person, but something about the dead makes me stop in my tracks. Something about structures of worship. The things we make sacred. I don’t have words for this, only feelings. Feelings I had to sob out of me int the car before I could continue driving. As we parted, my guide assured us we were invited to join her family on the two feast days the pueblo opens to the public. That kind of open hearted generosity floored me and continues to as I type this.

In the early evening hours, I literally drove into the sunset. After darkness fell, I drove past an oil refinery and nearly screamed it so vividly reminded me of the Mako Reactors from Final Fantasy VII. Eventually, I made it to Gallup where I showered, slept and awoke before dawn to make it to a 9AM tour of Monument Valley four hours away.

NAVAJO NATION

Before I hit the highway, I wanted to pick up some things in the Walgreens, but I had been warned to keep my eyes peeled in this part of town and a car followed me into the parking lot so I got the FUCK out of there, resigning myself to waiting until I passed a gas station that was better lit. I know that I drove past Window Rock, but it was still pitch black so I didn’t get to see it. Eventually, the sun did rise, on my right as the full moon glowed on my left. In yogic traditions, the right side is the sun / masculine energy and the left is the moon / feminine and I was flipping the fuck out at this perfect beautiful coincidence.

Monument Valley

Since so many westerns and space films have been shot out here, driving into Monument Valley feels like moving through another planet. So different, but so familiar. The red sand and structures held this ancient energy. Like you could feel mama earth in every speck of dust. Using words to describe it feels so lame. It’s such a feeling. Like a coming home, because it’s impossible to hear this clearly anywhere else. It felt like the ranch in Loveland or the Tent Rocks. 

I arrived with a few minutes to spare, but had a hard time finding my crew which led to many jokes between my mom (who I was on the phone with) and the tour guide at my expense. A textbook Capricorn, but sense of humor is not always the most fun in this department, but in this head space it was easy to see the kindness behind it. And besides, my tour guide, Larson (with Navajo Spirit Tours), was a next level G. So knowledgeable and kind and just next level buena gente. In between stories and myths and movie set sites, I grabbed some fry bread and sat in the dirt soaking in sun and wind and history. We stops at a few sites, but our last location was next level. We laid against a massive slab of rock while Larson played the Navajo flute and another guide we met up with sang this song about beauty. It sounded like an invitation back home. I was in tears by the end of it. 

Canyon de Chelly

Afterwards, I drove down towards Canyon de Chelly stopped at a grocery store to disinfect a cut and grab lunch, split a sandwich with a man asking for food, stopped to use the bathroom at Burger King and acquired some chicken tenders in the process (these would prove useful later, like acquiring key items in a video game). This was the first time driving started to feel difficult. I wandered into this out of body trance while listening to Led Zeppelin and had to switch to hardcore dubstep to keep myself focused and awake. Yeesh. One of my new friends in Santa Fe had recommended I book a horseback ride in Canyon de Chelly so I made my way to the stables by the Cottonwood Canyon more tired than I wanted to be, but hey, it’s a road trip and it’s still daylight. 

My guide was running behind, but here is where the tenders came in handy. I met the cutest, most adorable little pup and he went nuts for some morsels of chicken. He was so skinny and sweet and we snuggled until my guide, who was a very thin Navajo teen who very casually told me about his hobbies of riding bareback and bucking broncos. He had a very nonchalant attitude about his several concussions and broken bones and tons of stories about scaling the rocks along the canyon since his family has lived on either side of the canyon. We then got into his personal life and I did my best to crack his lone wolf attitude to little avail, but I did get him to smile a bit. Teenagers are awesome and weird. I do not miss being one.

Outside of Many Farms

That night I stayed in a hogon, a ceremonial hut that folks rent out when the structures aren’t being used for ritual, off an unnamed dirt road just north of Many Farms. My host had to leave town last minute so I stayed in the middle of nowhere alone. Very gracefully. Not freaking out at all. It was an adventure and I had peace, quiet, 360 sunset and sunrise, two lovely guard dogs to keep me company, some horses and I even saw a coyote. Every moment of fear was worth it to feel all that. I tell this part of the story really well in detail in person. Ask me about it ;)

Antelope Canyon

The next morning, I hit Antelope Canyon which was a really jarring contrast to everything so far. The two and a half hour drive included one stop to pee at the side of the road which I was very proud of myself for accomplishing without incident. You know you are truly alive and in a higher state of consciousness when going for a pee is exciting. After a gas station hot dog, (my options were limited and honestly it was way better than I expected) I met my guide and the most touristy group of tourist I had encountered so far. 

The Antelope Canyon tour is essentially a photography tour, which made it less magical than a lot of my experiences so far, until I started bonding with Oscar, my guide. I the only solo traveler in our group and comparatively extremely chill about getting these pictures taken despite whipping out the DSLR for the occasion. So, we got to chatting and brought up the rear on the way back to the truck. The canyon itself was gorgeous, and other worldly, but hanging with Oscar and learning to pronounce a few Navajo words properly was my favorite part of the trip. 

On the way back we exchanged info and he suggested a lunch spot so after picking up my companion for the rest of the trip at the the Paige airport, we popped on over for some bar food before continuing on for a long afternoon drive.

Check out part 5: Get Your Kicks, Grand Canyon + Route 66

Go back to part 3: Celestial Surprises in the Land of Enchantment