20 May 2021, Chandler, AZ

New territory in Arizona, and a long ride back

Yesterday, I drove around 500 miles from Durango, Colorado to Chandler, Arizona, the major portion of which was at altitudes between 5000 and 7000 feet.

Upon reaching Chandler I took a shower, had a 90-minute massage by Anna at ‘Yo Yo Foot Reflexology & Body Massage’, and ate a sushi dinner, topped off with a pint of ice cream—“Death by Chocolate”.

Other than to experience the scenery which I will discuss below, I had two major accomplishments: I had a breakfast in a good old-fashion American café, and I was able to satisfy my normal human needs for waste elimination despite there being long stretches of road where opportunities for this were nil—at least in private.

My original plan was to drive to Flagstaff, Arizona and stay overnight before returning to my daughter’s home in Chandler, Arizona, a distance of 170 miles. I imagined I would be too tuckered out to continue my trip from Durango, Colorado, around 320 miles, not counting the extra mileage from tooling around trying to find things and places in town. I discovered I wasn’t tuckered when I reached Flagstaff at around Noon. The lady at the desk of Green Tree Inn, Flagstaff was completely accommodating when I told her, in person, that I wanted to cancel my reservation. I ate lunch further on down the highway at a real drive-in restaurant, like the old days, Sonic Drive-in, Camp Verde, Arizona: A Sonic cheeseburger without the cheese, and an iced, sweet raspberry tea. (They had a toilet, also).

The first part of the return trip was on the same road I traveled the day before, US Highway 160 to Teec Nos Pos.

(That’s Durango at the upper right—the dark blue line is the road I traveled).

I wanted to have breakfast in a locally owned café, not a chain outlet, but I couldn’t find one in Durango, so I took my chances, hoping to find one in Cortez, 45 miles on US Highway 160, back toward Arizona.

The drive started in the very early morning, the sun just over the peaks to the east. One always sees thing returning on a road one didn’t see the first time: the sun slanting off snow-tipped mountains, the green of the trees, the passes curving down into broad valleys with rivers and creeks with water in them, unlike those in Arizona and New Mexico.

I found a café in Cortez on the highway, Pippo’s Café, 101 West Main Street. Right away I knew I had found the right place: there was no YOU MUST WEAR A MASK sign at the entrance. And, sure enough, no one in the small eating area was wearing one, nor were the servers. Wooden tables and chairs, décor so familiar I didn’t even notice it, humorous sayings tacked to the wall and support columns, no canned music. I had oatmeal with rye toast and coffee. One sign bragged about the coffee, and the sign was true. It was the best cup, and refill, I’ve had in years. They had a toilet.

It was only 45 miles to Teec Nos Pos, located at the junction of two highways. I would continue, now, on a new road for me, the continuation of Highway 160. I had reached this junction the day before on Highway 64 from Shiprock.

Along the way to Tee Noc Pos I saw the great Ute Mountains in full, in the morning sun. I can see why the Ute Tribe reveres them.

I traveled on highway 160/491, my eyes unable not to gaze, as much as safety allowed, on the north side of the mountain ridge, all in green (two shades), above. I was like another planet, a place where no one could live, but would want to visit.

I passed by the Casino and Four Corners, where I left Colorado and entered Arizona, and then quickly on to Tee Noc Pos.

From this point westward on Highway 160, the greens of the landscape faded away and the reds and dark browns, greys and blacks dominated.

Another planet, again, with the land tending toward red colors, more intensely as I went deeper into the territory. Sometimes I would round a tight bend in the road and come across gullies and canyons and tortured-looking shapes that had no seeming connection to the landscape on the previous side of the bend.  Although vegetation was sparse and sporadic, some places would be black with no vegetation, nor any promise of it.

The whole of the landscape, in all its varieties, seemed shaped by the weather, primarily water. But where was the water? It had to be the sporadic large downfall which quickly drained off and evaporated, over uncountable millions of years. This is the most vivid impression of my experience in this part of Arizona—unimaginable lengths of time, great upheavals from inside the earth and possibly from outside, as in meteorites and, certainly, the constant wind.

When there were broad vistas, the distant mountains and ridges to the north and west often had the peculiar shapes I saw in other parts of Arizona and in New Mexico. The distant ridges were often mesas, like this one I saw nearby at the settlement of Red Mesa:

I was anticipating my arrival at the next larger settlement, a town, where I could possibly have a toilet break. This was Kayenta. There was a Burger King. Mask on, enter, go to the toilet, order a cup of coffee, and off to the road again.

Soon after leaving Kayenta, rocks and formations such as there appeared to my left:

(Credit: Sea of Blush)

Yet another planet.

Seventy-five miles later I was in Tuba City, but I didn’t stop to tour the many shops advertising their Navajo and Hopi wares. I could see now that if I kept on going  I could be in Flagstaff by noon and could cancel my reservation.

The landscape continued to fascinate me; no picture or words can recreate it. This is why I traveled here. I will carry these images with me.

Highway 160 ends shortly after Tuba City where I turned due south on Highway 89 toward Flagstaff. The notable aspect of the landscape was San Francisco Peaks, covered with snow. The pass over this ridge was at 7286 feet, and then to Flagstaff.

On 24 May I plan to go back to Flagstaff, but then turn westward toward California and another adventure.

See you then.

Now to celebrate my daughter’s 58th birthday with her daughter’s family, including her precious granddaughter Quinn—at Benihana’s, a new experience for Quinn.

To see the next journal entry, GO HERE.



17 May 2021, Gallup, New Mexico

From Chandler, AZ to Flagstaff, AZ to Gallup, NM

The trip took around 6 hours, including a brief stop for a snack at Taco Bell, in Flagstaff (where I experienced a brief hailstorm), and some wandering around in Gallup, 190 miles later, before I found Red Roof Inn.

After checking in and unloading my stuff to the room, I went looking for a place to have a cup of coffee and write some notes for the journal. I ignorantly went in the wrong direction on the highway/freeway and found I couldn’t turn back until I had traveled 24 miles and had reached Lupton, in Apache County, Arizona, just over the border from New Mexico, a place I had already zipped by at 75 MPH, around an hour earlier.

So, add another 48 miles to the ~300 I had already traveled.

But, there was a place to have a cup of coffee—Speedy’s Truck Stop. Speedy’s serves Lupton’s few locals (Pop. 25) and the many truckers (and lost souls such as I) who travel US Highway 40.

It is a restaurant and a food, drinks and snacks store, with Indian-looking faux artifacts and children’s gewgaws for the occasional tourist, plus small tools and supplies for truckers and other motorists. And toilets, and fuel.

The large interior is very neat and well-tended. It appears to have once been a small plane hangar, or an industrial plant of some sort which needed a very high ceiling and lots of open space.

Below, a view from Speedy’s. Those are loaded railroad cars you see. Gallup seems to be a hub for many, very long trains going both east and west. [If you right-click on any image, and then click on ‘open image in new tab’, you will get a larger, more detailed view]

I assume all the staff are Navajo, or at least Native American—they appeared to be so. I had a heavy, deep-fried beef and bean burrito with my coffee. Another view from Speedy’s. We are at 6000 feet elevation here.

Earlier, in approaching Flagstaff from the south, I was reminded of the last time I took this route. It was in July 1995. I was just out of a job and a marriage. To clear my mind and soul to prepare for the next iteration of my life, I decided to travel in Arizona, the northern part I had not yet seen. A friend had a friend in suburb of Flagstaff. She set me up with that friend so I could have a place to stay on my way through. I was a beautiful setting, the balcony overlooking a thick forest (the elevation is between 6,000 and 7,000 feet around Flagstaff).

As I relaxed into the view and the sounds of the forest, I began to ponder my life’s path. I perceived recurring patterns. Try as I might, to go in direction A or B, I seemed always to revert to C. And, after some thought-less viewing of the forest, I found myself at peace and wrote this:

Words to describe my path:

To let go; to not-cling
To accept; things are as they are
To be open; to learn about the universe/my “self”

To live simply
To nourish loving relationships
To create and maintain a private space
To contribute to useful processes
To avoid negative people and processes.

Twenty-six years later, these phrases are still true for me.

Go here for the next journal entry


14 May 2021, A trip to Green Valley

Yes, in the desert of Arizona, near the Mexican border at Nogales.

Green Valley is twenty miles south of Tucson and 40 miles north of Nogales, Mexico. Green Valley is an unincorporated retirement community composed of 59 Homeowner Associations. (Source)

Why was I there?

No, it isn’t because Green Valley is home to the Titan Missile Museum, America’s largest nuclear weapons museum. (Source).

It is because a friend, whom I hadn’t seen in 30 years, lives there. Here is about her, in my ‘Being Old’ blog: “From Nanci Thomas.” She wrote this memoir for my blog five years before she moved to Green Valley. She has a brother here.

(Note— the first journal entry, “About”, contains this item: “I will reminisce as I travel routes to and through familiar places, and will record many of these memories to the journal.” Today’s entry contains some soulful, sometimes sad, reminiscences.)

Mary, my former wife, and I met Nanci and her husband Dave Thomas in Anchorage, Alaska where I then lived and worked. We were social and did things together. Dave had been a military officer in the Vietnam War. It had affected him deeply.

Both families left Alaska around the same time, met up again, briefly in California, then lost track of each other. Later, I was working as the chief executive of a general hospital in Ventura County, California. Dave walked into my office seeking help for a medical condition, and I gave him an appropriate referral. I learned that Dave and Nanci were living in Santa Barbara, less than an hour’s drive from Ventura. Shortly after Dave’s visit, Nanci informed me by telephone that Dave had died, and there would be a memorial service at the beach in Santa Barbara. Here is what I offered.

“Dear Dave,

You will remain with me as a singular man: highly charged, a carrier of great secrets, imbued with ancient codes of honor, duty, loyalty and, perhaps, some with no name.

Your presence was stimulating, sometimes compelling and always interesting.

Your spirit is now released, and I rejoice in your having found peace.

Farewell, friend.”

Nanci and I have stayed in touch since then.

(Note: David Thomas is not the only man I have known who was damaged by his being active in the Vietnam War. I was lucky to be too young for the action in Korea, although I served during the official period of it, and too old and otherwise ineligible for the conflict in Vietnam.)

Nanci is an artist. She has shared many of her paintings with me via the Internet. Being in Phoenix, only 140 miles north of Green Valley, accessible by well maintained freeways, I had the opportunity to see her, and I did.

I had traveled through this country 62 years ago when on a trip with my first wife, Patricia, on a sort of a honeymoon. (My father had given me a 1952 Ford sedan upon my leaving the Navy in 1958. I returned to live with the family while I attended a local  college.) Patricia and I had eloped to Reno to marry in February, 1959 during the academic year of our respective colleges in San Francisco. We immediately returned to continue our classes; we were then both living with my parents. We each had people we wanted to visit after the Spring semester ended, to present ourselves as a married couple. She wanted to visit her father in Ephraim, Utah; she hadn’t been with him since he left her and her mother when she was age 6. We necessarily had to pass through Salt Lake City, so Patricia decided to visit her father’s relatives there. We were not given a warm welcome.

We drove south to Ephraim, around 120 miles, and found her father living near the railroad tracks with his third wife, the only Catholic in a small Mormon town.

It was a not a pleasant visit. There was nothing to talk about, and Patricia’s father had no affection for his daughter. Her father’s wife was essential a blank for us. We escaped the next morning to travel to El Paso, Texas to visit one of my Navy buddies, living there with his pregnant wife and one child.

Across the Rio Grande from El Paso is the Mexican city of Juarez which, at the time, was as accessible as any neighboring USA city. Patrick took us on a tour of Juarez, a dim memory now except that we brought back to El Paso a bottle of Añejo Rum. Patrick and I drank it. We went back for more. Back again at his home, Patrick got violent, and we had to leave the next morning under a cloud of disappointment and unhappiness.

Our next objective was to visit my relatives, two aunts and an uncle, in Newport Beach, California. We traveled US Highway 10, which, in Arizona, connects Tucson and Phoenix. We entered Tucson at 2PM in June. It was so hot we couldn’t continue in a car that had no air cooling, so we went to an air-conditioned movie house. Upon leaving the movie, I remember the word ‘blast furnace’ entering my brain and leaving my lips. Nothing has changed since then, regarding temperatures in June. (PS: we had a good visit with my relatives, before traveling back to San Francisco. If you want to read a memoir about Patricia’s life, go here).

Yesterday, I left Phoenix around 8:30 AM when the temperature was in the 80s (the rental car politely tells me the outside temperature at all times). By the time I had gone 100 miles it was in the 90s, and when I arrived at Naci’s it was near 100 and climbing.

The landscape is strange. The desert is flat, with such close-by features as defined fields with and without fences, ditches, small settlements, and cactus and other desert flora. In the near distance, on any side, are strangely shaped, irregular mountains, extending over brief ranges.

There were also hills, shaped general like the image, above, closer by the highway. I imagined two things about these: They were former mountains and ranges which either: 1) were overcome by the rising elevation of the desert as it accumulated the eroded soil of all other mountains, over many millions of years; or, simply, had just eroded away from the high winds and occasional downpour, which sometimes is a monsoon. It seemed odd to have what appeared to be the top of a mountain, only a few hundred feet high, sticking out of the flat desert floor nearby.

In the far distance, always somewhere on the horizon, are large mountain ranges, with peaks and ridges similarly shaped as the above.

The speed limit is most often 75 miles per hour, or 120 Km/hr. I left US Highway 10 shortly after leaving Tucson to take US Highway 19 which ends at Nogales, Mexico.

Nanci’s house was easy to find. We hugged a greeting, stayed a short while in her house where I viewed some of her paintings and those of her brother in England, and their father’s, as well.

We set out in her car to travel further south to the town of Tubac, an artistic community.

It was too hot to see all there was to see, but we did enjoy a gallery of art by the Navajo artist R.C. Gorman, now dead. His father, Carl N. Norman. had been one of the “code talkers” in the Second World War. Here is a sculpture by R.C. Norman to honor his father.

We visited several stores that featured Native American art. I bought ceramic bowl, with lid, that has a beautiful western scene with horses etched lightly on its exterior. I also bought a cover for a couch pillow for our deep emerald green couch which needs some brightening (Eva agrees, but I don’t yet know whether this will meet her artistic standards.)

The heat finally stopped us from further exploration. So, we headed back to her place. It was soon time anyway for me to leave in order to avoid the rush hour in Greater Phoenix. It was good visit. She asked me to send her greetings to Mary when I (plan to) visit her next month in Berkeley; and also to Eva, fellow artist and wife of her friend, me.

In closing I offer an image of a great metal sculpture standing outside the gallery where I bought the ceramic bowl:

Stay tuned.

Go Here: for the next journal entry.