Last year about this time my husband and I drove from out home in
Vancouver WA to Colorado so I could attend Left Coast Crime and promote my current mystery, Beyond Confusion. We brought a massive snowstorm in our wake and didn’t get a chance to see much other than the incidental scenery along the freeway, coming and going. So we decided to drive to Texas this year for bluebonnet season and dawdle along the way. We are not good at dawdling. Both of us grew up with fathers who drove relentlessly.
Well, here we are on Lake Buchanan (near Burnet TX), a week and a day into a trip we think will take three weeks. The idea that we can stop is starting to percolate through, though we haven’t thrown over the traces completely. Our virtuous deviations from the freeway have been brief and infrequent, but we seem to be enjoying ourselves more because we can stop.
We drove due south on Interstate Five as far as Bakersfield, stopping at Ashland OR and Santa Nella CA before heading east via Tehachapi and Needles. This was the reverse direction to last year’s drive. Springtime is kind to California, and this year it’s spectacular. All those golden hills are forty shades of green. This is after a sadly prolonged drought that brought into focus the clash over water rights in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys. The orchardists and wine growers who own the land along the freeway are expressing their feelings with large vituperative signs repeated mile after mile. You are driving through a dust bowl, the signs claim. It was caused by the three wicked witches of the West, Pelosi, Feinstein, and Boxer. I’m sure that a couple of weeks of uninterrupted California sunshine will turn the hillsides brown and make those signs convincing. When we drove through, that old dust bowl was as green as County Clare. I wonder whether anyone else noticed.
We weren’t moved to take any side trips on I5. Arizona and New Mexico were more seductive. I won’t claim we made a lot of deviations from the freeway, but we did see things our fathers would not have stopped for. For example, about ten miles beyond Flagstaff AZ we turned off for the Walnut Canyon National Monument, a site I hadn’t heard of. Walnut Canyon is a steep ravine studded with natural caves that were enlarged and used as dwellings for centuries. Age and acrophobia barred us from a brisk 200 step hike to the bottom of the canyon and back, but we came away with heightened respect for the ingenuity and courage of the cliff-dwellers of the southwest.
For long stretches of Arizona and New Mexico the view from I40 was its own enchantment, magic enhanced by those useful Roadside Geology books that read the landscape and make even road cuts interesting. There probably ought to be a similar series on Roadside Gastronomy with critical reference to Gas Station Food.,
We came into Texas at El Paso after a pleasant evening in Las Cruces NM and spent the afternoon in San Antonio, taking a look at the River Walk before retiring from the fray to a motel north of that cheerful city. Our biggest deviation of the trip was a detour to Fredericksburg with its handsome German churches–and the Nimitz museum–smack in the middle of town. German settlers established friendly relations with the Comanches, and Fredericksburg has flourished ever since.
We made it to Burnet in time for tea. Good dawdling. Maybe we’ll try it again.