Archive | June, 2012

Day 20

16 Jun

We left Tupelo this morning and headed for Alabama. As we entered the state, we found that Jill, our GPS voice guide, pronounces the name “Alabama” like a native. This is the same voice that said “petra-feed” for “pertrafied” and called Oklahoma City, “Okulahoma City.” The first time she pronounced “Alabama,” I could not believe what I had heard. I think somebody from Holly Pond hacked into the Garmin system and slipped one word in.

We drove across north Alabama; it never disappoints. Just over the state line was a dilapidated, old red store with “BAMA” written on the side. A large lot was covered with kudzu. I felt as if I were home. In Holly Pond, the bulletin board at the town building announced the “Cemetery Walk” for next week. Twinkle and Lust were running for office. A new motel in Centre, “The Crappie Capital of the World,” has three giant fish in front of it. And, Old Fart has opened a Trading Post.

I wondered if someone from the West, visiting the South for the first time, would find this sort of stuff and the surrounding scenery as different as Lee and I found much of the West. I wondered if the hills and trees and the lack of wide open spaces here make Westerners feel a bit claustrophobic.

We made our last stop at Ave Maria Grotto at the St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman. If you have never been it is worth the three hours it takes to get there. Brother Joseph Zoetl began constructing churches, cathedrals and other structures, mostly religious in nature, out of concrete and found materials in the late 1920’s. It grew into a large, folk art environment.

Today, a monk who worked with Brother Zoetl continues to add structures. This monk is now eighty but is training a younger replacement, so the environment continues to grow and develop. The smaller environment in back of the Adventist Church on the Rome Road has similarities with Ave Maria Grotto.

St. Bernard Abbey is a Benedictine monastery. It was founded in 1n 1891 to serve the needs of German Catholics in the Cullman area!? Ironically, Hank Williams, Jr. has, or had, a large farm at Cullman. I wonder if he was a regular at the monastery.

This visit is the third for Lee and me. If the Grotto followed the same policy as Paul McLeod at Graceland Too in Holly Springs, Mississippi, we would have had our photos taken in Brother Zoetl’s robes and could make any repeat visits for free. I reckon there are differences between Paul McLeod and Benedictine monks. (If you don’t know about Graceland Too, ask the Sproull’s or google Graceland Too.)

We are staying at a quaint little bed and breakfast tonight. It comes complete with two cats. It is in Calhoun, Georgia. (Jill pronounces “Georgia” with clipped syllables, like a Yankee machine.)

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Day 19

15 Jun

We drove to Tupelo today. Our plan had been to spend some time in Clarksdale and Oxford, maybe eat an early dinner at Taylor Grocery. Unfortunately, something I ate yesterday left me feeling bad, and we did not do much. We slept late and drove on two-lane roads.

In Clarksdale, we stopped by Cathead Music and Folk Art. They have a tribute to Mr. Tater the Music Maker outside the store – a folk art portrait, a photo, a brief story on a plaque, and Mr. Tater’s guitar. Several years ago I sat on the bench under Mr. Tater’s memorial portrait and listened to him play and sing. Ken Sproull sat on Mr. Tater’s bike. Mr. Tater was unique.

In Oxford we went to Square Books and walked around the square. Lee saw Faulkner sitting on a bench and sat down with him. At the start of our trip, I sat on a bench with Ben Franklin. Lee’s portrait with Bill makes a set of bookends. We took a photo of the Courthouse and Confederate Monument in front of it and thought about the description of the square in the last lines of The Sound and the Fury, in which Luster tries to drive the idiot, Benjy, the wrong way at the monument. Benjy begins to scream hysterically; he can go in one direction only. We also visited Faulkner’s grave; the Book Club is always on our minds.

Tomorrow night we hope to be in Calhoun, Georgia.

Day 18

13 Jun

We left Amarillo by morning and wound up, 600 miles later, a little past Little Rock. I’m cheating about Little Rock. We actually finished about twenty miles on the western side of Little Rock, but we were close. I was so tired, I would have pushed a firefighter aside to get on the elevator tonight.

We made only two stops today: Erick, Oklahoma and Oklahoma City.

Erick is the hometown of Roger Miller and Sheb Wooley. A town street is named for each of them, and there is a Roger Miller museum. The museum was not open when we came through at 8:00 AM. In true small town fashion, Miller was Wooley’s wife’s cousin and Wooley took an interest in Miller’s career. I know that all of you know Roger Miller, but who can identify Sheb Wooley without turning to the internet? Be sure to read about the Wilhelm scream.

Erick is also home to the Sand Hills Curio Shop and a windmill yard. We would have visited the Curio Shop, but it was overrun with bikers (the motorcycle kind.) The windmill is an environment but lacks pizzazz.

Our second stop was the Oklahoma City National Monument where the Murrah Federal Building once stood. The bronze Gates of Time at either end of the Reflecting Pool have 9:01 on one and 9:03 on the other, the seconds before and after the explosion ripped through the building.

The Reflecting Pool stands for healing calmness in contrast to what happened in that second. It is the one hundred sixty eight empty chairs that most people think of as the memorial to the people who were killed. Nineteen of the chairs are smaller than the others.

There is the American elm tree that somehow survived the blast and remnants of the walls of the building. It is an emotional place.

We reached Fort Smith at 3:00 and decided to go on to Conway, Arkansas where we spent the first night of the trip. Tomorrow we are going to Oxford, Mississippi, and then, home on Friday.

Day 17

13 Jun

Today was a short driving day. We traveled from Albuquerque to Amarillo. Along the way we saw miles and miles of miles and miles. We are back in the high plains, where the song, “Give me land, lots of land,” comes from. On one stretch of Interstate we checked the mileage from where we were to a spot in the distance where the road finally vanished over a small ridge – twenty miles. In places, I swear I could see the curvature of the earth. The windmill colonies reappeared in the panhandle of Texas.

Fires are still a problem. A warning has been issued in Homolovi Ruins where we visited yesterday. So far we have been unaffected.

In Vega, Texas, we went to see the Boot Tree at Dot’s Mini-Museum. Just so you’ll know where we were, Vega is just a few miles west of Wildorado.

We did see one of the landmarks of the trip today, Cadillac Ranch. Walking back across the field from the cars, we passed another aging couple. The guy looked at me and said, “I can’t believe I’m walking across this field to see this.” We have to sacrifice for culture.

Our plan was to get to Amarillo early and rest. We did. Early this evening we ate steaks at the Coyote Bluff Café. The café looked like a place that Guy Fieri should visit. It was a good steak house. We had dessert at Cowboy Gelato. After dessert, we cruised around Amarillo, not exactly LA. We did see the Guardian of the Arts in Sunset Center, and old shopping center. It was just where I thought the Guardian of the Arts would be.

Tomorrow we drive across Oklahoma to Fort Smith, Arkansas. Having visited Fort Smith in the past, we may start to sense home.

Day 16

11 Jun

As Willie says, “On the road again.” We left Flagstaff and stopped in Winslow to see the Homolovi Ruins, home of ancestors of the Hopi Indians. It is startling to me how many different peoples decided to live in this high, harsh and dry environment. This area averages only fifteen inches of rain annually. One of the ruins at Homolovi is very large, estimated to have originally had over 1200 rooms.

We met the ranger at the visitors center, Gwen Setalla. She turned out to be a well-known Hopi potter, as is her husband. They make various objects from native clay, paint traditional decorations on them and fire them in a pit. The fire is made from sheep dung. Both Gwen and her husband’s work on display at the visitor’s center was striking. We bought a small piece to add to our tiny collection of folk, Native American and outsider art. If you would like to read more about Gwen and her work, here’s a link: http://www.pueblopotteryme.com/hopi5.htm.

Gwen holding our pottery

From Homolovi, we went to Holbrook, Arizona, to visit both the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert National Parks. Jill, our irritable but patient GPS voice, kept telling us to drive on the Petra-feed Forest Road.

To take this side trip we had to drive through Holbrook. We did get to see the Wigwam Motel and Dinosaur Rock Shop, both stops on old Route 66. Then it was twenty miles out from Holbrook to the entrance to the Petrified Forest followed by twenty-four more miles on the Petra-feed Road and finally back to the Interstate.

These National Parks are magnificent places, but the trip took us three hours, and we could have spent all day.

Petra-feed Forest (2 photos)

Painted Desert (2 photos)

Painted Desert Inn, now Visitor’s Center

Finally we hit the Interstate and drove two hundred more miles to Albuquerque. Amarillo by tomorrow evening.

I need to add a couple of comments about Jill, our GPS navigator. She is very patient, but sometimes seems a bit grumpy when she repeats, “Recalculating” two or three times. She has never just stopped calculating and said, “You’re on your own, Buster,” but a couple of times, in a sort of desperation, she has exclaimed, “Drive to highlighted route.“ In the quiet that follows, as we try to figure our where the highlighted route might be, I often wonder if Jill is having a drink, or wondering, “How did I get stuck with these bozos?”

Day 15

10 Jun

Five hundred miles plus side trips can make a couple of aging travelers tired. However, stepping onto an elevator in front of some well-conditioned young men who were talking about taking the stairs has made me feel ashamed. It turns out that the men were members of the Winena Hot Shots from Klamath Falls, Oregon. They are in northern Arizona fighting forest fires. Dry conditions in the Southwest have resulted in multiple forest fires in many states. I would gladly haul my large rear up all five flights of stairs at the Flagstaff Holiday Inn to have another chance of letting those young men on the elevator ahead of me.

Lee talked to a firefighter from Feather River in California. More firefighters are coming in from all over the West. We got a photo of a truck.

Here are a few highlights from today:

1. We already missed Gardner before we were completely out of Los Angeles. Still, the city is a bit large for me.

2. Near the graves of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans in Victorville, California is a much larger than life, fiberglass statue of Trigger.

3. I need to apologize to the Mojave Desert. Traveling east on I-40, we saw a different side of the desert: mountains, dunes, color. It was a fascinating place. We even drove into the Mojave for a few miles.

4. There are many wildflowers, and tame ones too, in the West of which I am completely ignorant.

5. Don’t forget to check your gas gauge when you leave Kingman, Arizona. It’s a long way to the next gas pump — in Seligman, Arizona. When we finally pulled into the Historic Route 66 General Store in Seligman, the indicator said we could go only ten miles more.

6. When Willa Cather first saw the cliff dwellings in Walnut Canyon near Flagstaff, she said, “How easy it would be to dream one’s life out in some cleft of the world.” Walnut Canyon is nearly five hundred feet deep. There are cliff dwellings in many of the rock sides. Some relics found in the canyon date back over 3000 years. Why and how the Indians lived in these dwellings and lived at an altitude over 7000 feet with an average rainfall of twenty inches, is beyond me.

I’m tired, but I’ll bet the firefighters are already asleep.

Day 14

9 Jun

Cash Bar was delivered to Gardner today. Gardner’s friend Chase, obviously unaware of how much Cash weighed, had agreed to help move the bar up a rather long flight of steps. After the move was completed, both guys looked a little the worse for wear. But, Cash Bar was delivered and sits proudly with other Johnny Cash accoutrements.

With Gardner as our guide, we made it to the Pacific Ocean. We went to a pier south of Venice.Gardner was unwilling to pay twenty dollars to park at Venice Beach. He wound up with a great deal, paying only fifteen dollars where we did park. The weather was chilly, but people were everywhere, wearing skimpy attire. I, of course, was mainly interested in the surfers and bird life.

Next we went to the museum of Jurassic Technology. I felt as if I was in the middle of a Borges short story. We couldn’t take photos, so I can’t really show and tell. Many of the exhibits did not make sense or may not have been real. It was a real Borgesian experience.

We finished this tour with a drive into the Hollywood Hills and looked down on the city. LA is an enormous, amazing place. I’m glad I don’t live there.

On our way back to Gardner’s apartment, we became involved in the preparations for Sunday’s Gay Pride Parade. I was in the back and could not hear Gardner and Lee in the front seat. I did not know what was going on. I thought the traffic and the crowds were just typical Saturday night in Hollywood.

I also noticed that businesses in LA are rather blatant in their advertising. I saw a truck that offered a full body massage delivered to your door. I did not get a picture of the truck but did get a storefront that offered a similar service. I also got a shot out the window of a marijuana dispensary. But, most amazing of all was the open advertisement by prostitutes, though I think these may have been from the South.

It was great to see Gardner and to tour LA. I’ll be happy to leave the traffic behind. Tomorrow we head for Arizona.
(We are trying a new way of organizing the pictures.)