5/27 Raton NM to Pagosa Springs CO

Because of Covid, the motel could not really serve any food but they did provide us with a breakfast bag with instant oatmeal and tasteless, chewy energy bars. We headed from the Raton Pass Motor Inn north on I-25, up the pass and then down into Trinidad, Colorado. In Trinidad, we turned off on CO-12, a magnificently scenic two-lane blacktop. Soon, we came to Stonewall, which has a gigantic stone wall tilted up at about 85 degrees that turns out to be only about 12 feet thick but which is maybe 200 feet high and extends from horizon to horizon. We passed through the wall and then ascended Cuchara Pass, up to about 9000 feet before dropping down the other side to US-160 where we turned West, up the East side of the Continental Divide.

After an hour or so on 160, we pulled into the farming community of Alamosa where we stopped to dine in a barbecue joint called Woody’s Q. They had fabulous ribs and it is entirely possible at least one of us ate too much. From there we continued on US-160, climbing steeply up the East face of the Rockies until we crossed over Wolf Creek Pass. It is a stark, alpine climate zone at the top (12,000 feet) before dropping down the West side of the pass and divide on a very steep road with a couple truck escape ramps for those that were unable to control their loads when descending. The highway is very steep with grades exceeding 10% for long sections. There are some hairpin turns, switchbacks and plainly visible snow poles on the side of the road. There have been many messy, although probably spectacular, instances of trucks getting out of control and ending up totally destroyed in the rocky canyons alongside the road. An old country-western caterwauler named C. J. McCall sang a redneck ditty about making a barely controlled descent from this pass and ending up in “downtown Pagosa Springs.”

At the bottom of the pass is, indeed, Pagosa Springs where we pulled into the Alpine Inn, a thoroughly unremarkable hotel. Our request for a disabled room was ignored and when I inquired, the person at the desk indicated all the disabled access rooms (if any) were being renovated. There was no visible construction equipment, activity or personnel visible anywhere. Inside our room we found a tiny, virtually inaccessible toilet, no grab bars, bath and room doors that are so poorly fitted that it looks like they were installed in the wrong size openings and the racket from US-160, which runs right next door, was plainly audible throughout the night. I suggest staying elsewhere.

5/26 Santa Fe to Raton

We typically engage in leisurely departures, leaving our motel rooms just before required check-out time and this morning was no exception. We headed North on US-84 headed for what is called the “High Road to Taos.” On previous excursions through this part of the country, we had followed US-84 to NM-68 – the easy way. This time we had much more time so we turned off 84 at Pojoaque and headed up the sometimes one-lane NM-503 to Vadito, continuing from there on NM-518 into Taos. The scenery was stunning. We didn’t need to shop so we skirted Taos and headed East on US-64. 64 is a gorgeous mountain road through pine forest with ample creeks and rivers which were filled with New Mexicans flyfishing. The entire drive from Santa Fe to Raton is very scenic. Near the prairie Southwest of Raton, in the midst of bison, elk and grazing pronghorn, we passed the Whittington Center which is a huge expanse of land where certain NRA members can pay ridiculous amounts of money to shoot at targets and animals. I don’t think they shoot at each other although you never know. I knew quite a few NRA members when I lived in Oregon and they sometimes shot each other, particularly during deer and elk seasons.

Some four or five hours after our departure from Santa Fe, we pulled into the Raton Pass Motor Inn, a funky old 1950s vintage motel at the bottom of the New Mexico side of Raton Pass. Our room had floors lumpier than the ocean during a typhoon, no disabled amenities and interesting decorations. However, it was warm which was great since it was 40 degrees outside. Our room had an assortment of spineless cacti which I did not realize were plastic until shortly before departure. The place was pretty quiet and the beds were good. Down in the town of Raton (which means “rat” in Spanish), we found a place to eat called the Asian Buffet. Because of Covid, there was no buffet but we were still able to get good ala carte items from the kitchen.

May 25 Gallup to Santa Fe

This morning we left Gallup, which is located right in the middle of the Zuni Reservation, and continued our trek toward the East. Unfortunately, there is not an abundance of through highways in New Mexico so we were obliged to do our first few hours on I-40 to Albuquerque. There we turned Northeast up I-25 toward Santa Fe but we escaped the interstate just beyond Bernalillo, turning North on US-550 to San Ysidro. After crossing through some amazing terrain with spectacular erosion effects that have contoured them, we headed east on NM-4 through the Jemez Pueblo and on into the Valle Caldera, the extinct remains of a gigantic volcano.

Those that have seen a TV serial called Longmire, filmed in the Caldera, have had the opportunity to see the lead character’s gorgeous cabin and the pretty meadow it sits in. The series is supposed to be about an area in Wyoming but filming in the 20 degrees below zero winter elements required most of the filming to be done in New Mexico. There is a visitor center in the center of the Caldera and the cabin can be spotted to the Southwest. There are birds and prairie dogs and elk that patient viewers can see athough the elk may require binoculars.

After considerable ogling, we continued on East through Bandelier National Monument and then a bit South into Santa Fe, where we checked into a very small but quite pretty motel called the Silver Saddle. It appeared to be quite rustic outside with vine-covered ramadas, flowering landscaping and Cerrillos Road, a major thoroughfare, right outside. As it turned out, the rooms are decorated in a cowboy motif with plaster cowboy antique lamps, spurs and hats on the walls along with some cowboy paintings, including one of a cow. The original builders must have done a good job because we could not hear the voluminous Cerrillos Road traffic in our room, which also had a small kitchenette. All around, it was a great place to stay despite having a toilet for the height-challenged. The beds were comfortable and the rent was very reasonable.

As it turned out, we did not need the kitchenette because right across the street from the motel was Castro’s where we got a great meal. They served us pastry things called sopapillas which were light and crispy and very tasty, particularly when slathered with honey. They had a terrific menu and an equally spiffy variety of beers available to wash down their luscious food.

May 24 Flagstaff to Gallup

This morning, our congenial host whipped us up an egg breakfast with a coffee chaser and it was great. We finished eating and hobnobbing and jumped into our car for an excursion to Gallup, New Mexico, taking the long way. We could have jumped on I-40 and gone by Walnut Canyon, Meteor Crater and the Petrified Forest but we had travelled this road, albeit from East to West, a few years back so this time we decided to pass through the Navajo and Hopi Reservations. When we passed through this stretch previously, we could look North and see rainbow, pastel cliffs far away on the Navajo Reservations so this time we went to see ’em up close.

We backtracked up US-89 for a couple hours, passing through Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monuments and the hamlet of Cameron before continuing on to US-160 Eastbound for about five miles before turning Southeast on AZ-264. We followed this road almost all the way to Gallup.

The road crossed at least three massive mesas with huge drainages between them. The drainages must only do their thing during monsoonal downpours that occur during some other season because we didn’t see a drop of water. All of our route passed over reservation lands and through several Native American villages. Since we are travelling during the time of Covid-19, we noted signs posted at the entries to the villages and other reservation areas strictly forbidding us pesky Paleface types. The locals have had a rough time with the pandemic.

Nevertheless, the colors of the terrain are stunning, the geologic formations are fascinating and I gained a respect for those that can live in this challenging environment. The plants are prickly, surfaces are convoluted and water is scarce.

We eventually ended up at the La Quinta Inn in Gallup, where we actually got a room with a geezer-accessible restroom, grab bars and a sizable terlet allowing challenge-free bathroom activities. It was very nice. We went down the street to a restaurant run by a Palestinian family. When I asked the owners if their displayed Palestinian flag had brought out any hateful eruptions from Rednecks, they indicated the only issue they had was a tourist from Los Angeles flipped out when the owner showed up to take his order with a head covering. The poor lady took the high road and threw the goon out of her business.

Just outside of town are big pastel cliffs, smooth and curvaceous. They are beautiful, particularly at sunset.

May 23 Valle to Flagstaff

Checked out of the Grand Canyon Lodge, seemingly a hotel for folks with very short statures, and headed up about 30 miles of AZ-64 to the Grand Canyon. It is indeed grand but also quite crowded at this time of year. Fortunately, we have a disabled parking placard so we were almost always able to park in a really nice spot just a few steps from all the scenic features. It is fortunate that I have the placard because the last couple days of extended squatting on puny hotel johns has not done my arthritic knee and hip joints any good and walking is getting to be a painful challenge.

Nevertheless, the Grand Canyon is truly stunning from the South Rim. The South Rim is lower than the North Rim some 10 or 12 miles away on the other side of the Canyon but the views are still spectacular. Peg and I have been to the North Rim a few times but this is Peg’s first foray to this edge of the Canyon.

We initially drove West along the South Rim, skirting the enormous bluffs dropping thousands of feet to the Colorado River. At the West end of the road accessible to private vehicles, we pulled into a small parking lot adjacent to the venerable and gorgeous El Tovar Hotel. There we struggled out of the car and over to a nice wood bench on the brink of the South Rim. The Colorado River, some 4,000 feet lower and about 3 or 4 miles laterally, can be spotted but only in select spots because the entire flow passes through what looks like a tiny crack from up on the edge. Not wanting to pay, wait and ride the Park Shuttle to points further West, we turned East, stopping at all of the pullouts on the Canyon side of the road. Along the way, we noticed groups of ravens giving us an aerobatic show using the massive thermals slicing up the cliffs for propulsion. We even stopped at a Park Service pit toilet which was, frankly, taller and more comfortable than the john in last night’s hotel room.

We left the park by the east gate on AZ-64 and eventually made it to US-89 where we turned South and took an hour’s drive to Flagstaff. Tonight’s lodging was our only deviation from mostly classic motels and some hotels. This evening we checked into a B&B called Peak’s Wildernest on the outside edge of town. Initially it looked a bit funky but inside it was quite nice with lush carpets, gorgeous and comfortable furniture, big digital TVs in each room and a back porch offering peaceful solitude and nice scenery. It’s cost was comparable to an inexpensive hotel, but much more comfortable and the host was very accommodating.

May 22 Needles to Valle

Not surprisingly, we were not required to awaken in the morning as we spent virtually all of last night listening to diesel electric locomotives passing by, trucks with Jake brakes on the Interstate just beyond the hotel’s property line, a wonky air conditioner making a variety of whistles, chugging sounds, submarine noises and huffing; junkies next door killing themselves followed by the shrieks of their stunned associates and the unanswered pounding of management fists on the adjacent room’s door.

However, we did get to stop for a very tasty breakfast at the nearby Wagon Wheel restaurant where they serve a big selection of great breakfast fare including a good chicken fried steak, eggs and hash browns along with pretty fair coffee.

Our intent on this trip was to minimize travel on the Interstate Highway Ststem although, here in the West, there is almost no other routes across the big desert stretches. We noted that we could avoid a section of I-40 on our crossing to Williams, AZ, by exiting I-40 just after crossing the Colorado River into Arizona and taking the longer and more circuitous Oatman Highway (AZ-10) from the river to Kingman. Along the way, we passed up the east side of the river and a huge swampy area where the Colorado gets real shallow and wide while passing over a flat rock riverbed. After passing through some fascinating and varied desert environments and skirting some massive geologic formations, we arrived in the tiny town of Oatman.

There is an old story, unverifiable, of course, that Clark Gable and Carole Lombard came to the tiny hotel in Oatman to escape the press during their honeymoon. If it is true, it seems strange because Oatman has few stunning views, people or businesses but it does have a big herd of burros that are a remnant of mining operations nearby which continue to this day albeit with improved mining technology. As we drove into town, we encountered colorful signage and interesting curios lining the streets with burros browsing among the buildings. The entire main drag is about 2 blocks long but is quite interesting, with tiny stores hawking a variety of doodads for sale to those brave enough to drive here. Just beyond the town, we drove through a very narrow section of road through the Gold Road Mine’s facilities and numerous tight switchbacks before cresting the ridge for the long downgrade into Kingman, AZ. Right after we started down, we encountered a very calm burro standing in the middle of the highway and blocking traffic. Peggy was able to bribe him with the ice-cold carrot slices that have been lingering in our cooler.

At Kingman, we rejoined I-40 for the long haul through Seligman and Ash Fork to Williams where we turned North on AZ-64 to Valle / Grand Canyon Junction. We pulled off at the Grand Canyon Lodge where we were given a nicely appointed room but with the lowest chairs and beds in the world and absolutely no disabled access. Again, the toilets were beyond my comfort range and grab bars did not exist. The shower and bath floor was a slippery venture into possible broken skull land. When I sat on the bed, bending my knees was almost not required as it was nearly like sitting directly on the floor. Fortunately, the hotel had a restaurant because there is no other place to eat in Valle other than the Handi-Mart at the Chevron station.

May 21 San Diego to Needles, CA

Our planning stages were complete a few days ago. Our route has been plotted by AAA on TripTiks and fully supported by maps and GPS devices. We have reservations at motels, hotels and B&B’s for our entire trip. We have requested lodgings with accessible facilities throughout our itinerary and have packed the car with crud to make us comfortable along the way. We have insulated water tumblers, a small cooler, collapsible chairs, a first aid kit, snazzy insulated coffee mugs, cheesy bamboo disposible silverware, cameras, binoculars, huge hordes of elderly-person medications and all the other items old folks take travelling. We are prepared. For some reason, Peggy even brought along a plastic container full of carrot chunks which we store in the cooler.

Today was our first real trip since December, 2019, and it was initially a bit strange returning to the road. We have not spent more than two hours in the car in the last 18 months but we broke that rule today. We started at 9:15 AM in San Diego and headed north, then east, on a journey through the Southwest of the U.S.

The first few hours were filled with miles of miserable and quite jerky traffic, passing out of San Diego into Riverside County. However, once we escaped the Riverside metro area, the traffic diminished and the climb up Cajon Pass started. At the top of the pass used to be the Summit Inn, a venerable and welcome stop, but a horrible wildfire a couple years ago razed the former greasy spoon and all that remains is a charred foundation. We then passed into the Hesperia / Apple Valley area before wandering out into the Mojave Desert on I-15. Unsurprisingly, it was hot outside but our new vehicle’s air conditioning works very well so we didn’t pop on the way through. After an hour or two, we arrived in Barstow where it was even hotter and we left I-15, turning onto I-40 eastbound.

This part of the Mojave is bleak (if you are afoot) but it has a strange beauty. There is a tremendous variety of plants but they have each evolved a stout defense, like nasty spines. It must have been almost unendurable to cross this area for those pioneers of California’s early history. Some time after the passage of the pioneers was the construction of the railroads and they are open for business in this otherwise uninhabited space.

After a few more hours, we arrived in Needles at about 3:30 PM. At first glance, it seemed unremarkable.

This trip we have embarked on sort of a theme regimen – we are primarily going to stay in old motels along state roads, shying away from large hotel chains and interstate highways but our first day driving was on I-something all day. Our initial lodging here in Needles was at a Red Roof Inn which looked okay upon arrival but we soon found out better. Despite getting off I-40 a few blocks from the lodging, we found that the road we took to the hotel actually runs adjacent to and parallel with the Interstate which passed very nearly directly behind our room. The traffic on the Interstate never stops, particularly for something as ordinary as nighttime. Across the street, concealed behind a chain link fence, were multiple rail tracks. All of the trains we saw in the Mojave, plus an equal number going the other way, are required to pass through the bottleneck that is Needles and they rumbled by about every 15 minutes all night. There are big climbs from sea level over 4000 foot passes to the west and the trains have multiple locomotives at each end. Capping our slumbers (or lack thereof) was a small party in the room adjacent to ours culminating in one of the revelers having an overdose around midnight. Most of the noise from next door ceased after unknown civil and management personnel arrived. By morning, there was almost nobody to be found in the room when management came pounding on the door at 7:00 AM. Unfortunately, our room’s air conditioning unit made a noise that was almost Biblical in volume but torrid outdoor temperatures required its continuous operation. The noise did somewhat overwhelm the racket from next door. We do not recommend the Red Roof in Needles. It turned out that disabled access rooms at the Red Roof do not exist. Their toilet was so tiny it was almost hard to see and definitely hard to sit on or arise from. The bath has slippery floors and no grab bars. The tub has a high edge making access difficult for an old fart like me.

We did find a restaurant called the Wagon Wheel in Needles. The prices were quite reasonable, the service was good and the food was great. Other than the adjacent Colorado River, this place might be the best thing we found in Needles.

May 15 2021 Prep

Well, your strange author has been laying low for most of the last 20 months. On December 28 in 2019, I checked into the hospital with what I thought was just an inability to take a dump. As it turned out, not being able to pinch one was actually the least of my problems.

Sepsis raged within me for a bit but the truly disconcerting news was that I had renal cell carcinoma and I have been enjoying the newest marvels of modern medicine since then. I have been involved in something called immunotherapy since and it is a pain in the arm but it is also the only reason I ain’t dead. It has been a challenging 20 months but recently I finally got tired of sitting around the house and decided to get back to travelling with my wonderful spouse. We were obliged to sell our old Barbarian Invader 5th wheel trailer because going out for extended trips is now beyond our capabilities due to the requirement that I be in San Diego every 28 days for a trip to the chemotherapy infusion center to have my arm filled up with expensive medication. However, our lust for travel is undiminished but now we are limited in how far we can go and lodging. We now do hotels and restaurants instead of getting cozy in our trailer and cooking in the trailer’s kitchen.

In late May, we bought a hybrid all-wheel drive SUV which would allow us to venture forth on all the roads that were too skinny or too curvy or too unpaved that we discovered between 2014 and 2019 when travelling with our F-250 hooked to a 34′ trailer.

For our first foray, we decided to limit our travels to rural roads and state highways while disdaining the federal interstate system. The following entries are our impressions while on this first trip.

May 27 Still still here

We are all still here despite the coronavirus fun. We have been isolated in our house except for periodic trips to the grocery store, my visits to the hospital for immunotherapy and occasional forays out into the rural parts of San Diego County, just to see if they are still there.

I am the most boring of the family members, so I get to go first. I have had a couple immunotherapy forays to the hospital in the second phase of my treatment. Due to the challenges of Covid-19 on local hospital facilities in San Diego. my therapy sessions are now monthly instead of every other week. My latest CT scan, performed in late April, indicated that the miserable cancerous guest on my right kidney is stable and some of the nodules of renal cell carcinoma in my lungs have been reduced or eliminated. Maybe the cancer treatment I have recently endured will keep me alive a bit longer. All I know is I ain’t dead yet.

My beloved, tortured spouse, Peggy, has been engaging in heroic efforts to make my life less miserable. She is an amazing person; when not taking care of my miserable carcass she almost single-handedly emptied out our travel trailer and stowed the stuff here at the house, cleaned up the yard, planted a garden, did the taxes (although we have not seen our refund despite sending in the 1040 in February), acquired and used a lawn mower and additionally did most of the cooking and the laundry. I am amazed that I was clever enough to find such a superb partner, particularly when we selected each other when we were young and stupid.

Dana has been on extended leave from Starbucks in an effort to avoid bring coronavirus home to her immune-challenged dad. It may be that she allows the leave to run out without returning to work and will need to find another job in the bleak environment left over after the pandemic. Fortunately, due to dedicated thrift when we were younger, we have enough money to support the family for the foreseeable future without anybody being obliged to sacrifice their health to survive. Another added recent development for Dana is that the beaches are now reopened so she can bodysurf again. She was beginning to go postal without being able to get in the surf but now she can rip up the waves with reckless abandon.

Sam continues at school but all the college lectures are now remotely offered over the internet so he doesn’t have to drive to the campus for classes. We bought him a new car about 10 minutes before social distancing kicked in but, fortunately, the mileage will remain low for a while. However, on-line classes just are not the same as the real thing so Sam is really knuckling down to keep up with his physics, calculus and linear algebra demands. Fortunately, he is amply supported by his wonderful spouse, Kate, and seems to be doing just fine. Tragically for our waistlines, Kate is an extraordinary cook but we certainly do eat well.

The coronavirus continues to rage outside. The political administration in the US right now is guided by an egomaniac with thin skin who has elected to adhere to wacky conspiracy theories of the right wing instead of logic, contemporary medicine and science. The result has made the USA the world leader in infections and deaths through policies of inaction and tomfoolery. The birdbrain policies have resulted in 1.4 million people having been diagnosed with Covid-19 and deaths are approaching 100,000 since late March. Trump fans have been the first to bolt from reason under gradual reopening and are now out and about, hopefully infecting their similarly thinking compatriots. The dedicated leader and noisy numbskull has embarked on a strange procedure of eating hydroxychloroquine, an effective remedy for the bacterial infection malaria, to combat Covid-19, a virus unaffected by bacteriologic cures. Hopefully, the foolishly self-prescribed drugs will generate organ failure inside his disgusting body and we will be rid of the narcissistic megalomaniac before he kills us all.

April 23 Scary stuff

A month has passed since the last entry and there is little news to report. On the family front, there has been little change. I went over to the hospital a couple times to see my oncologist and start what was referred to as “maintenance” immunotherapy, an apparent second phase. It seems about the same as the first phase except the drugs are only $10K per visit instead of $100K and they can give them quicker because I get fewer doses. Peggy has settled into a role of puttering about outside the house, trimming overgrown plants and picking an abundant variety of weeds and grasses. Sam continues his college pursuits supported by Kate but classes are now delivered via the internet due to the coronavirus pandemic. Our daughter, Dana, has probably had the worst self-isolating effects of any of us because she was amply employed, single, a social butterfly and vehemently opposed to being cooped up with some college students and Social Security recipients. Her efforts to overcome her misery have been stunning.

After my primary phase of immunotherapy, Kaiser was supposed to call me with a time to report and get a CT scan. They definitely dropped the ball so, when I recently chatted with my oncologist, she said for me to call Kaiser and see if I couldn’t shake things loose. I will be going to the hospital tomorrow for a CT scan that will hopefully show remission but I anticipate results somewhat less wonderful. I am glad I have Kaiser Part C Medigap because the stuff they have been doing to me is pricey but my fraction has been very small. I think I’m only in a couple hundred dollars but treatment costs are about a half million.

Our glorious leader, His Malevolence Donald Trump was completely full of shit on every aspect of the coronavirus pandemic when he stated that the U.S. had nothing to worry about, the government was prepared for any eventuality, the virus will go away in the spring and malaria drugs will cure viral infections. The magnitude of His Flatulence’s lies are stunning. A month ago, there were 43,500 cases of Covid-19 and 540 deaths in the U.S. Primarily due to Trump’s bungling and complete disregard of science at the outset, there are now 875,000 cases and nearly 50,000 deaths. His Royal Twit Don has fired all the scientists at the CDC, FEMA and associated entities and replaced them with wankers like Jared Kushner, son-in-law and business failure or chief-of-staff and crybaby, Mark Meadows. There remains no viable coronavirus diagnostic tests, ICUs nationwide are jammed with the dying, and it remains unknown if the asymptomatic can transmit the disease without knowing they are ill. Federal emergency supplies to bolster the hospitals were non-existent and King Trump established embargoes against countries that could help fill the materials gaps. It has been like living in a crazy dream where insane people have the controls of the aircraft and they only stop to pick up more lunatics and bullies. I fear a long decline until the plane dives into the tarmac. I started out the month mostly worried about cancer but a narcissistic megalomaniac has been running the show and the results during the last month have been absolutely dreadful with a quite grim outlook.