The Great American Road Trip – Episode VII
by Carolyn McLaughlin
Spending about four days in Santa Fe was like the vacation within the adventure. The weather was sunny and pleasant, a little cooler due to the change in altitude and a move away from the sweltering heat of Texas and Mexico. While we were in town we did some laundry, bought more souvenirs, and had a new treat for the taste buds.
Annmarie took us out to meet her in-laws-to-be after a day of shopping and sightseeing at the plaza. The Millers were great hosts and while cocktails and conversation unraveled there was the ever present comment about we travelers as the camera toting junkies. Photo opportunities were like anxiety attacks throughout our journey. The next thing I knew though, after listening to hunting/camping excursions the Millers had taken, they were breaking out the photo albums.
Along with the pictures of beautiful landscapes in Colorado and New Mexico, came the animals. The game. And this game, name of elk, was also tangible evidence. Wrapped carefully in Reynolds Wrap and tucked away in the freezer, pieces of meat were appearing along with grins on the Millers’ faces. We were officially invited to dinner. Fresh beverages and the main course would now begin. Rob and Dan, Melissa and I, found ourselves grinning too. None of us had ever had elk meat. We looked forward to the chance to broaden our palates. As the potatoes were baked and the salad was tossed, the kitchen filled with the smell of fresh meat seasoned with onions and garlic. Once our plates were filled we took the plunge. The taste was delightful, refreshing, and unlike that of beef or pork or chicken – meats all of us were accustomed to. It had a taste of its own I cannot describe.
Eventually the retreat at Annmarie’s had to end. There was a lot more left ahead to see and do. She warned us to be careful because, “if you try to see everything, you won’t see anything.” Four hours later, as we entered Arizona and then into the Petrified Forest, her words echoed in our memories. The site was incredible; the desert took on new meaning as we gazed out across endless miles of craggy plateaus and smooth valleys. The land was soundless as the clouds danced against the sky, creating unapologetic shadows that hung like a pool of rainwater with no place to go.
We had thrown in a new tape and headed for the highway when the good old fast food munchies descended upon us. Rob wondered about something with bacon. Dan needed a lot of food for a good value. Melissa wanted roast beef. I was craving a good milkshake. Leave it to the fast food expert Melissa, she knew we’d have to hit Wendy’s, Burger King, Arby’s, and McDonald’s respectively, to satisfy each of us. The next exit proved to be successful for all of us, especially Dan, although there was no Burger King.
Rob got some huge burger with bacon galore at Wendy’s. Dan got an order of fries. The next stop was Arby’s. Melissa got her roast beef sandwich with cheese. Dan tried one, too. The last stop was McDonald’s. Everyone ordered drinks. Dan also got a filet of fish. By the time we were pulling out of the last drivethru we were laughing hysterically at Dan, who had already coined the phrase, “a man’s got to eat.” He’d say it with that snipped, tight little accent and a big smile of satisfaction. We knew his mum would be glad to hear he hadn’t lost his appetite so far from home.
The rest of the day was spent driving between Indian specialty shops full of blankets and silver and turquoise jewelry. We realized we would never make it to the Grand Canyon for sunset. Instead, we blazed to another National Park called Sunset Crater. There was camping there and it seemed like the first authentic campsite.
We collected wood and built a fire and prepared food above the flames and we loved the whole experience. We had been wanting to camp more often than we had so far. It was a beautiful night and by the time it got down to what seemed like 20 degrees but was probably more like 50, the tents were up and we were ready to count sheep. The day seemed like it had been longer than others, because we were driving again after several days of inertia.
The next morning other campers had said there was a storm brewing, which explained the clouds and drizzle and a need for the wool socks I was glad I had brought. We were all bundled up in jeans and sweaters and windbreakers and boots. We observed each other and noted the change from bikinis and shorts at the beach 5 or 6 days earlier. It was exciting to have such a change. We knew that by the afternoon we’d probably be peeling off the layers in the heat of the barren and foreboding vastness of the Grand Canyon, the experience of which we felt would be the true highlight of our road trip.
We left Sunset Crater and drove into the early afternoon before bothering with directions for the next destination. Of course, this neglect landed us in the Northern Rim rather than the more popular Southern area of the Grand Canyon, 200 miles away. Aside from winding national park roads and park rangers with radar, this route was a blessing in disguise…
Next week: Grand Canyon grandeur