las vegas, nm used to be one of the most important train hubs in the american west. built by money from railroads and mines, this once magnificent town has since fallen on hard times. the old harvey house still stands, although abandoned and somewhat derelict, but the charming depot — a wonderful example of spanish revival architecture — is still active!
SPRINGFIELD, SPRINGFIELD IT’S A HELL OF A TOWN
the state of illinois is home to one, count ’em, one national park site: the lincoln home national historic site in the state’s capitol, springfield. luckily for us, this place was not too far off of the highways we were following in a mad rush to make it first to michigan to drop mazy off with my sister, and then to chicago to celebrate the birthdays of two of my nearest and dearest.
in fact, we were in such a rush that when we first saw the signs announcing the lincoln home historic area my first inclination was to demur. it was only when i checked my national park passport and realized this was perhaps my only chance to get the single stamp offered by the entire state of illinois that i faltered. we are witnessing, after all, the historic obama presidency, a presidency that has strong connections both to illinois and to abraham lincoln, and what better time to take a moment and reflect on the man that president obama so clearly admires?
we pulled into a shaded parking lot on a quintessential mid-western summer day: glowering sun shepherding slow-moving clouds in a sky pale with humidity. i ran into the visitors center to get my passport stamp…and then proceeded to get sucked in by the various displays, historical models and movies scattered about the place.
before we knew it, hours had passed. we visited the dean house and the arnold house (the only two buildings you can visit without the presence of a tour guide), encountered the lincoln troubadors (listen to the audio clip if you want to hear their rendition of a familiar classic), and watched a short documentary about lincoln’s train trip from springfield to washington d.c. at the great western depot.
we had intended to arrive at my sister’s place at a reasonable hour, not only to spend some time catching up with her and (her husband) tim, but also to get mazy settled in and to pack our bags for our early morning train trip to chicago. instead, we arrived at 12:30am to find the doors locked and the windows dark. we spent a good 15 minutes trying to figure out how to get into the building. we finally got to bed at around 2 in the morning, exhausted and heat-stoned. i blame barack obama.
this audio clip contains a couple of excerpts from the cell phone tour offered at the lincoln home site and a song performed by the above mentioned lincoln troubadors. enjoy!
our visit to arizona was punctuated by three unexpected and unnerving run-ins with the powers that be. the first was a security inspection conducted by the department of homeland security just before crossing the hoover dam. the other two happened at security checkpoints set up by the border patrol. the first of these took place just north of patagonia, az, about 20 miles north of the border. the second occurred on the day we left arizona, just north of truth or consequences, nm.
there is something truly frightening about being scrutinized by folks with military authority. the line between a fairly benign interaction and one gone horribly awry is just one miscommunication, one misunderstanding, one unallayed suspicion. the balance of power is tipped almost entirely in their favor and it is easy to feel as though you are entirely at their mercy. the whole thing requires an attitude of deference, something i have little practice in. fortunately for us, however, we have a good luck charm from tim’s childhood watching our back. macgallowitz, a large-ish, two-tone teddy bear, has done much to lighten the mood and reduce the stress of these surreal interactions. at hoover dam, for example, the constables who were inspecting the contents of our truck were greeted by macgallowitz’s impassive stare. “who does this belong to?” asked a crew-cut. “that’s his,” i said, nodding in tim’s direction. the crew-cut looked at tim with an expression saturated with bemusement. “you don’t have any guns or other weapons in there, do you?” he asked. i scoffed. “no way!”
the combination of the stuffed bear, my incredulity at the thought of owning a weapon, and our general squareness banished any suspicions the crew-cut might have held. he waved us through with a slightly mocking smile.
some things which might interest you about our visit to arizona, the 49th state of the union:
that picture up there? that’s chamoy. it is the craziest thing i’ve eaten in a good long while. i can’t even begin to explain it and i have no idea why nobody ever told me about it before now! it’s sweet, salty, bitter, sour, crunchy, melt-in-your-mouth, ice-cold spiciness. yummy!
in arizona, gay marriage is extra super duper biggie-size illegal. until recently, the state extended domestic partner benefits to state employees, but out of what seems like sheer mean-spiritedness, az has repealed them, leaving a lot of people in the lurch.
springtime in the desert is surreal. imagine entire mountainsides painted the bright orange of mexican poppies. with every breeze, billions of tiny petals trembling, setting the earth on fire.
the ads for john mccain’s 2010 reelection campaign use the tagline john mccain: arizona’s last line of defense. no wonder they’re so nervous!
thanks to the generosity, kindness, and goodwill of our many hosts, we ate the tastiest fry bread, watched the most staggering sunsets, lounged in the most decadent hot tubs, practiced yoga in the most crowded classes, and hiked the most painful trails. if you get a chance, ask tim about the restorative yoga class…it’s hilarious.
due to severe budget cuts, all state run rest areas in arizona are now closed to the public. seriously. they’re surrounded by chain link fences and bright orange closed signs. it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if arizona ends up changing its travel and tourism slogan to arizona: we don’t really want you around.
waterfalls in the desert? who knew? we were there at just exactly the right time to witness this spectacle. two weeks later it would have been a dry gully.
by june 3, around two-thirds of arizona’s state parks will have closed their doors for the foreseeable future. our last night in az we camped at a sweet little park set on the edge of a lake within sight of snow covered peaks. it offered a hot-spring-fed hot tub and big, clean bathrooms with good showers. it was also full to capacity with campers. despite all of this, in a couple of months it’s getting shut down. sigh. ain’t no shortage of wal-marts, though, so if you feel like camping out under the stars is essentially the same as sleeping in a parking lot, you probably won’t be affected by this tragedy.
a saguaro forest is an otherworldly landscape. when they become very very old, their dolphin-like skin becomes as thick and gnarled as treebark. occasionally, one will mutate and become cristatic. it is crazy looking, like it’s trying to grow a brain.
the two tallest buildings in tempe, az are abandoned condominium skyscrapers; casualties of the housing collapse. they stand there, dark, silent and unfinished monuments to hubris and greed.
frank lloyd wright’s last building, the gammage center, is on the campus of arizona state university. it is, as they say, a confection, but you can get an all-access tour for free, and it’s history is pretty cool. if you go to the gammage, then you have no excuse for not visiting asu’s fine arts building, designed by antoine predoc. when the new york times did a review of all of the buildings on asu’s campus, it beat out the gammage center as having the most architectural importance. it’s a pretty special place.
outdoor shopping malls are now being marketed as lifestyle centers. shopping at pottery barn and eating at the cheesecake factory? now that’s what i call a lifestyle!
although it gets very hot here, our visit coincided with the most beautiful and temperate season to be in arizona. cool evenings, warm days, and high overhead, the distant eggshell sky. while we were riding our bikes around and sleeping under sheets, the rest of the country was pretty much socked in by rain, sleet, hail and snow.
if you look like you or your parents were immigrants and the authorities have a wild hair, you’d better watch out! you are exactly the people that john mccain is trying to defend arizona against.
our campsite in chloride, az.
st. patrick’s day parade in chloride, az.
the mohave museum of history and arts, kingman az.
near mt. lemmon, tucson az
magically, we found ourselves in patagonia, celebrating dan’s 40th birthday.
michelle, adrian and jmichael made tucson our home away from home.
saguaro national park.
the heard museum.
desert botanic garden.
we spent almost 3 weeks being held by the vortex that is arizona. i had a marvelous time hanging with friends and exploring the desert in springtime, but still and all, i was happy to get the heck out of there. what with the whole gay as second-class-citizen thing, the looming threat of surprise security inspections and the potential that i might be required to produce documents to prove my legality just to walk down the sidewalk, arizona just doesn’t feel particularly welcoming.
Posted by Wordmobi
on the border of the mojave and colorado deserts
we woke to a bright, wind-chilled morning near the military town of twenty-nine palms, ca. the campground’s name, indian cove, hinted at a safe haven, a shelter from the harsh elements, but on that night at least, it felt like we were camping in a wind tunnel. i’m pretty sure that if not for our combined weight anchoring the flapping, whistling tent, it would have blown clean away. the next morning we found tent stakes that had been securing the rain fly 10 feet away from where they had been driven into the hard packed earth. random items from who knows where — a sweatshirt, a towel, a sock, several empty cans of heineken — littered the campground.
under the comforting, warming glare of the desert sun, we made a leisurely breakfast and then headed into the town of joshua tree to restock on supplies and run some errands. as usual, things took longer than we had anticipated and by the time we made it into the park, it was already late afternoon. given the quickly fading light, we decided to hike out to barker dam and back.
the heart of the mojave desert
the next day, we left joshua tree, heading north towards las vegas. once again, we passed through the mojave national preserve , the magical place where i entered my 39th year of life . we had already visited the kelso depot twice on our crisscrossing travels through socal, but given tim’s love of all things train, a third visit was inevitable. it’s a charming, beautifully restored building and sitting at the restored lunch counter while freight trains thundered past on sun silvered rails, it was easy to imagine what kelso was like when it was a vibrant railroad boomtown.
an oasis in the mojave
north of tecopah, motorists pass several handpainted signs imploring them to stop and visit the china ranch date farm . it is such a harsh and desolate landscape, all horizon and disintegrating sierra, that it is easy to focus on some distant destination and ignore all potential distractions, especially one as seemingly incongruous as an asian themed date farm. but thanks to our lackadaisical traveling style and the recommendation of the woman we met in a campground in tecopah, we decided to follow the signs chop-suey lettering down side roads, ravines, and into a sheltered canyon that glowed green with life.
the date farm turned out to be a shining example of the entrepreneurial spirit. apart from the farm itself, the property also housed a bakery (which served date-based delicacies like chocolate chip date cookies and date bread), a cactus nursery, an antique store, a campground, and several hiking trails. they also served up a wicked date shake, an indulgence that we reluctantly passed on when we were visiting palm springs — really, people, $6 for a shake? — but that we happily and greedily slurped down in the sunny warmth of the mojave.
next time: fear and loathing of las vegas.
Posted by Wordmobi
folks get a lot of mileage out of hating on l.a. one of the many mellow-harshing conversations that tim had to endure at the hot springs in tecopa, ca , for example, was basically some dude yammering on and on about los angeles’ many and varied faults. blah blah traffic; blah blah hollywood; blah blah etc. and this highly discerning connoisseur of urban life was from las vegas. yup, that’s right, beautiful idyllic las vegas! huh.
to be sure, los angeles has a long list of well-documented downsides. i admit that i don’t know how well i would do if i had to live and work there full-time. the prospect of a daily 3-hour commute on l.a.’s screwy freeway system is enough to give me the shakes. but for an 8-day visit — which happens to be exactly how long the three of us spent there — the city of angels is practically perfect in almost every way.
here, then, in no particular order, are the things i loved about the much-maligned city of angels.
1. la comida ~ yes yes yes, i know, there’s good food to be found everywhere. portland has its whiffie hand pies and random order cafe and all-you-can-eat ethiopian buffet. san francisco has delfina and the ferry building and that little tiny place on 14th and valencia (or is it 17th?) that serves the best falafel sandwiches ever. hell, even hemet, ca has carne asada tacos that have made me groan with pleasure. so what about l.a.’s gustatory offerings made me stand up and take notice?
the dulce de leche cake from the coffee table cafe.
ethiopian vegetarian combo at messob.
for one, there is just so much of it! l.a.’s sprawl might make your daily commute a living hell, but it also means that there is a seemingly endless supply of places — big, small, fancy, filthy, and everything between — serving an endless variety of food. our week-long food party included vietnamese bun, dim sum in chinatown , ethiopian veggie combos , a traditional brazilian buffet , a japanese curry house , american brunch classics , down-home mexican, home-made ice cream, fresh vegetable juice medleys, and a place that was devoted solely to cream puffs. oh yes; and one regrettable late night dinner which started with deep-fried macaroni and cheese balls and ended in tears. and all this eating barely scratched the surface of what l.a. had to offer. we didn’t have any sushi or korean bbq or lebanese or umami burgers; we didn’t eat anywhere specializing in raw, vegetarian or macrobiotic food. it wasn’t for lack of trying! paul, one of our hosts, kept shaking his head at us and saying, you guys are out of control! no, paul YOU’RE out of control. now let’s go eat.
2. la clima ~ some folks complain that l.a.’s weather is too nice; too consistently wonderful. to this i say, puhleeze. find something real to complain about.
3. la estación de tren ~ this truly distinctive landmark somehow manages to capture both the soaring aspirations and deep cultural roots that define southern california. part spanish mission, part art deco hood ornament, it’s glamorous and romantic; the kind of place where double agents are hunted and hard-boiled detectives fall in love with platinum blondes. tim and my visit was far less dramatic. first we oohed and aahed at the tilework and heavy-boned furniture and then we used the public bathroom. what can i say; we’re tourists!
4. avistamientos de celebridades ~ nuff said.
5. nuestros amigos e familia ~ of course, we wouldn’t have known about the cream puff place or the dim sum house or the joys of topanga canyon’s eagle rock; we wouldn’t have found the beautiful fig tree or ethiopia-town or the farmer’s market; we wouldn’t have had as much fun or laughed quite as loud or received so many hugs, if not for our friends and family. so massive gratitude and thanks to everyone who made time and space to see us on our whirlwind through socal.
to paul, who let us crash at his place for a very long time at the risk of alienating his housemates and exhausting himself, and who never got upset when we flailed on late night plans. i’m reading your script and will give you notes soon! promise!
to ruthie, who broadened our horizons and gave us space for healing, contemplation and wicked good conversation. may our paths cross again soon, if not here, then in brasil!
to sara and tony, who host the most awesomest monthly party in the northern hemisphere and who introduced us to kitsu and whistler. may the inspiration you’ve given be returned to you ten-fold.
to marty and pj and matt and jim, who brought us to muscle beach and encouraged us to drink. may the screeching never end.
to tim’s wonderful family, the whole happy hilarious gang. next time, we all have to go rollerskating!
to matt, heather and calan, who brought us to eagle rock to watch the sun
set and whom i lamely did not even photograph. may the wind be at your feet and may you walk in beauty.
viva los angeles! next time, we promise we’ll go out dancing, re-enact key scenes from xanadu, and get more brazilian food. until then, see ya later, gang!
Posted by Wordmobi
a sunny, leisurely morning; a whimsical, brightly lit counterpoint to the blustery, gothic night. we made a hearty breakfast of american fries and veggie scramble and then dawdled our way through the rest of the morning, ostensibly breaking camp, but really just soaking in as much sunlight as possible.
we finished off our morning with a visit to the hot spring. i stayed in my corner of the pool, assiduously avoiding any conversational forays undertaken by my fellow bathers, while tim suffered through conversations about vasectomies, home ownership, and grandchildren. after a while, the conversation turned to politics, and when someone made the assertion that sarah palin is as smart as president obama, i made a quick exit. no reason to ruin a perfectly good soak by getting into a debate with a moron. someone else picked up the gauntlet, however, and i was lucky enough to record it.
from tecopa, we headed south toward the mojave national park. on our way, we passed through baker, ca and had a delicious meal at the famous travelers’ rest, the mad greek.
the place was filled with tourists from every corner of the world. a table of filipinos sat behind us laughing and encouraging each other to eat. stylish japanese couples scattered themselves amongst families speaking french and german and something i identified as dutch although really, what do i know? all of us crossing paths and gorging ourselves on ungodly amounts of greek food…in baker, ca, home to the largest thermometer in the world and gateway to the mojave national park.
this is the kind of shit that makes me feel downright patriotic!
three important things about the mojave desert:
1. the kelso depot ~ pretty much smack dab in the middle of the park sits a beautifully restored union pacific depot. built in early 1900s, it was originally used as a remote service and crew change station, now, it is home to the national park visitors center and to the beanery, a humble cafe occupying the old railroad lunch counter. the town of kelso used to be a kind of railroad boomtown, with stores, bars, and a post office, but now it has been all but abandoned to desert.
2. the kelso dunes ~ just a few miles from the depot sits the gigantic sandpile known as the kelso dunes. on a windy, sunny, late-winter day — the kind of day that feels both chilly and sweltering simultaneously — tim, mazy, and i spent a few hours climbing to the top of one of the dunes to see what we could see.
there were moments that the wind was so strong that the dunes themselves seemed blurry; as if they were on the verge of shimmering out of existence.
poor mazy got sandblasted!
3. my 39th birthday! ~ after four days basking in the warmth and heavy sunlight of death valley, it was easy to convince ourselves that winter’s grip had finally been broken, at least in the rarefied climes of southern california. the mojave did much to shake that impression. our first night camping in the mid-hills campground was so windy that, several times, i was startled into wakefulness by the sound of our tent being shaken like a maraca. the next day, however windy, was still beautiful and sunny, and despite the ominous clouds that gathered at sunset, i still held on to the hope of rising temperatures and the coming spring. we were in a desert in southern california for chrissakes!
what a rare and beautiful way to greet my 39th year!
Posted by Wordmobi