Day 16:

The Great Southwest is Closed

I drove an hour out of my way in pitch black to get to Santa Fe rather than go to Albuquerque. I thought Santa Fe would be a unique little town with adobe houses and rustic charm. Instead, it was a squeaky clean mini mall with faux-fronted buildings mimicking the adobe style, and populated by rich retired people. I immediately crashed after the 10 hour drive and didn’t see any of it the night I arrived.

After getting a look around the next morning, I sped out of town and started towards Flagstaff. The drive was only six hours, so I wanted to take my time and explore all the little things I couldn’t do the day before. I hooked up my tripod in the passenger seat and started photographing everything in sight along the road. I stopped at every rest stop and every gas station along the way to find the perfect shot of the New Mexico/Arizona landscape. I’m probably a nuisance on the road as I’m constantly taking pictures while driving. I figure I only have one shot at this, so I have to make the most of it.


I’m starting to enjoy the little gas station rest stops. It feels like a small community of people coming together at exactly the same time in a village consisting of a gas station, a Denny’s, a burger shop or Subway’s, and a convenience store. The more elaborate rest stops have a laundromat and showers. The community of travelers gather together to buy funyuns, ding-dongs, Grand Slams, gas up, or take a potty break. Then they go on their way. I am curious about the other people I see in these places. I wonder where they’re traveling, why we’re on the same road, and what their final destination might be.

Today I talked to some of those people while gassing up. It was an old retired couple who spend six months of the year traveling around the U.S. in their mobile home. Their next destination was Phoenix, and they were planning to stay there for the winter. They stopped in to gas up and refill their 40oz sippy cups with coke. I told them my little story when they asked about the New York plates on my car. I’ll probably never see them again, but we were buddies for about 5 minutes in that gas station rest stop.

Halfway through the drive today, I turned off the highway to see Arizona’s petrified forest. Unfortunately, a large gate blocked the path to the park. A sign on the gate read, “Park Closed Due to Lack of Funds.” I remembered a headline I’d read before I left: “Government Shutdown Imminent Due To ObamaCare”. From what I’d heard, republicans were staging something to shut down congress and all non-essential government functions, including all national parks, nationwide. It was disturbing news that it had happened, particularly considering that for the rest of the trip I’d been planning to camp in those parks. And the one at the top of my list, the Grand Canyon, was closed.

A group of retired ladies and tourists from Europe were hovering around the closed gate lamenting their loss and kind of enjoying the oddity of the situation. The retired ladies all posed for a picture next to the “Park Closed Due to Lack of Funds” sign. I asked them if I could get a shot of them as well, and they obliged. They were sweet ladies. They’d come from Washington to see the Grand Canyon. They made me feel better, kind of a “we’re all in this together.” To make up for missing the petrified forest, the retired ladies and I drove about 10 miles in another direction to see the largest hole in the earth made by a meteor.


Lovely retired ladies


I got to Flagstaff around 5pm and checked into a cheap motel near downtown. I walked towards downtown and wandered around a while. Flagstaff is a beautiful, crunchy little town. It was exactly what I wanted to see and what I didn’t get from Santa Fe. A friend of mine recommended a few places and I tried them all. Macy’s Coffee, Diablo Burger, then Hotel Monte Vista for a Whiskey Chai Latte.

I lingered at the Hotel Monte Vista for a while, sipping on two Whiskey chai lattes and a rum & hot apple cider. I had a great conversation with a fella next to me who was editing a documentary. We talked about our respective industries, and creative pursuits we’d like to follow. I try not to talk about my work when I’m making conversation, but somehow I always do. We meandered into the government shutdown, which explained why we were surrounded by so many forlorn Europeans in the bar that night, mourning their loss of the Grand Canyon. He recommended driving through Monument Valley, then up through Utah and back down into Vegas, which I was too lazy to do. He didn’t give up, and somehow wound up laying out a plan for the duration of my trip. The first stop was a route to an alternate “Grand Canyon West”, located on Havasupai tribal land.

I stumbled out of the cafe with a warmth in my belly and a fondness for this lovely city and the people here, walked back to the motel, and checked in for another day.