Saturday, August 24, 2013

A Road Trip Adventure Across America - Part Four

“Well I'll tell you something, this is no longer a vacation, it's a quest. It's a quest for fun, I'm gonna have fun and you're gonna have fun, we're all gonna have so much fun we'll need plastic surgery to remove our damn smiles! You'll be whistling Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah!”
Clark Griswold – National Lampoon’s Vacation

Day Two ended by seeing Four Corners in the dark and arriving late at a Travel Lodge in Farmington, NM.  Certainly not Sam’s Town, to Avery’s disappointment but a bed and shower, none-the-less and there’s no shame in thinking that’s enough.  After finally getting the kids to bed post watching Cartoon Network and then a little CNN to lull them to sleep, I could relax and….zzzzzzzz or in my case…ZZZZZZZZZZ!!!

Day Three.  Up and at ‘em.  We packed up the car, which was right outside our motel door, so convenient, and headed to our next destination: Bandelier National Monument, near Los Alamos.  I had visited once before with my friend Bob during a film directing seminar in Santa Fe (BTW, Linda Gray of Dallas fame was also in attendance).  Bandelier was known for it’s Native American cave dwellings and I thought visiting would be interesting and educational for the kids.  This was plan B as the original plan was to visit Royal Gorge in Colorado, the highest bridge in the U.S. but wild fires, days before we left California had destroyed most of the site’s buildings and the bridge itself had some damage.  Suffice it to say, it was closed to the public and so I had to find another adventure that would allow us to get to Colorado Springs by evening to visit family – Bandelier fit the bill.

The road to Bandelier wasn’t that exciting until we got near the Jemez Mountains.  Knowing we were short of time we didn’t stop for breakfast or lunch, we just snacked with what was in the car.  All I ate was a Hawaiian roll and an apple - a mistake I will regret later.

Once off the highway we found ourselves on a winding two-lane road, making our way towards Bandelier.  It was a lot more picturesque as we climbed mountains and delved into stream/tree-lined valleys.  We drove through a cute little bohemian village called Jimenez Springs that reminded me of Topanga in the Santa Monica Mountains near our home.  If I was alone with Johanna I’m sure we would have stopped for a romantic lunch but with Star Wars blaring behind me and a pre-teen complaining about her little brother kicking her I thought best to beeline to our destination.  

We soon passed this large green valley that looked like it was out of some 40’s romance movie that took place in Ireland.  At Bandelier I discovered that this valley was the Valles Caldera and was once the cone of an ancient volcano.  It was quite striking and I wished I had stopped to take better pictures than I could get holding my phone out the window (I did stop along the side of the road.)

The road became a lot more winding as we crawled up through the mountains and once we got near Bandelier it was very curvy but with striking views as we cradled the side of the mountain.  It seemed to take forever but we finally found the entrance to Bandelier.  It was closed to traffic (which I already knew because I’m smart and checked their website the night before).  We would have to go up a little further to the town of White Rock to get a shuttle that would take us into the Monument. 

The Visitor’s Center was clean and new and after I figured out that the area populated with Native American vendors selling trinkets was not where you wait for the shuttle, we were all set.  After a short break the shuttle arrived and we were at the Monument in about 15 minutes.  The shuttle stopped a couple of times along the way at trail heads but no one got off.  I don’t think anyone was going to be hiking much in the heat.

The kids needed a little nourishment before we went on the short loop hike so they got some ice cream and we all got bottles of water.  The food distracted the kids from the gift shop…well, sort of…at least we got out of there with only easily consumed items. 

Olivia took on the challenge of reading all the signs along the trail – which may have taken a little longer than I would have liked but it was good practice for her and hopefully she learned a thing or two.  It was helpful for Avery who could not read.  

After passing some of the native home ruins we began climbing steps up to the smaller cave dwellings.  At first Avery was a little reluctant to climb the wooden ladders up to the cave but once I helped him the first time he turned into a seasoned little papoose.  He would run ahead of us and be up in the cave dwelling before Olivia and I reached the location.  Olivia never did climb up inside, as she was a little timid.  She missed out because up in the caves it was nice and cool, yet they must have been short because I had to bend over to get around or crawl on hands and feet.  It was perfect for Avery.

As we continued on the hike, about half way we used up all the water.  It was hot – not Death Valley hot or Texas hot, but hot.  Luckily, we were walking onto the tree-lined stream part of the trail and in the shade, heading back towards the visitor’s center.  Along the way I started getting a little queasy but nothing bad. 

We finally got back to the parking lot and the water fountain.  After bathroom breaks we waited for the shuttle.  On the shuttle Olivia sat next to a couple of girls from Maine and subsequently began a conversation.  It was the time of day where Olivia can be a little motor-mouth and I suggested to her to ask the girl some questions about Maine in order to get her to let the girl talk.  The result was mixed. 

As the shuttle made it’s way back to White Rock I kept getting sicker and sicker.  I had cold sweats, nausea and a really bad headache.  Every stop and turn by the shuttle made it worse.  I hid from the kids I wasn’t feeling well and when we got back to the car I figured we’d stop in Santa Fe to eat and I could rest and get nourished and probably would feel better or so I hoped.

It’s always a challenge to find a place that will have food that Avery will eat so as I tried to find a suitable restaurant, that wasn’t McDonald’s, along the highway I came up empty.  We got into Santa Fe, making our way towards the interstate and again, nothing.  I was getting sicker and just wanted to crawl into a bed and assume the fetal position and moan.  I imagined sitting down as a bevy of waiters brought me cold drinks and plates full of food.  I’m sure there was a place to stop along the way but I don’t think my brain was working and I kept driving.

I got on Interstate 25 heading towards Colorado Springs.  There had to be a place off the highway, right?  To my chagrin, this part of the interstate went through national forest for miles upon miles.  There were exits but nothing but trees could be seen.  I didn’t know how long I could last and I finally had to reveal to the kids that I wasn’t at all well and had to stop.  I couldn’t wait for any kind of restaurant or even a gas station.  I found an exit which had a park and ride commuter lot (why out in the middle of forest, I don’t know why) where I parked and subsequently took a nap.  I didn’t know what else to do.

I figured I must have had heat exhaustion that probably came about because I had an empty stomach.  I did drink plenty of water.  I think I was out about a half hour.  The kids had their EDs so they were okay and it was daylight so I wasn’t that concerned.  I felt a lot better and was able to continue driving.

When we got to Las Vegas, NM, about twenty minutes later we found, what else, a McDonald’s for our dinner stop…actually, our only real meal of the day.  After some food in my tummy I felt a lot, lot better.  We were a little behind so I texted our relatives that we would be getting to their house after midnight. 

Before we got to McDonald’s I filled the tank so once we got back in the car I was alarmed that a warning light came on that I’d never seen before.  I quickly consulted the car manual and discovered that the warning light was an emissions control check and meant either of two things: I hadn’t turned the gas cap closed enough - after hearing three clicks - or it was in need of thousands of dollars of repairs…well it didn’t exactly say that but it did say to see a mechanic right away because it could mean trouble and DON’T DRIVE.  

I did remember not turning the gas cap all the way so that must be it, right?  I stopped along the highway and tightened the cap, as the manual instructed.  It said the light should go off after a while, if that was the problem.  I kept driving, staring at the light.  The sun was descending behind the buttes and the darkness just made that warning light scream at me more.  Five miles, still there.  Ten miles didn’t go away.  Twenty.  Thirty.  I got nervous and nervous.  Was I ruining the engine by continuing to drive?  I was in the middle of Nowhere New Mexico at 9:00 at night.  Where would I find a mechanic, let alone one open.  I had visions of Doc Hollywood, stranded in a Podunk town that needed a filmmaker and the townies keep me from leaving by pretending my car needs rare parts that take weeks to arrive. 

After a while you just tell yourself…”F*** It. I just have to hope for the best.”  So I kept driving.  Over the Raton Pass.  Passed Pueblo and finally Colorado Springs – the warning light still glaring at me. In my tired haze I actually think it morphed into the Wicked Witch of the West and cackled at me. "I'll get you, my sweetie, and that little car, too."  

I may have made it to Colorado Springs but I still had to get to their new house I'd never visited. It was too late to call for directions so I used my trusty phone’s GPS and the sweet digitized voice to guide me to the Brooks’ home with ease..."turn right in three HUNdred feet."  Once on their street it was easy to find their house as Joanne was waiting for us in the front doorway with a tired smile.  I gathered our needed bags and she showed us to our rooms with appreciated hospitality and a comforting British accent (she’s Johanna’s Aunt who married her Uncle Kenneth, her Dad’s brother while in the military overseas.) 

To make matters worse, my iPhone had run out of juice just as I pulled up to the house and the car charger cord wasn’t working for some unknown reason.  Inside the house my other cord wasn't working either, even after trying several electrical outlets.  I thought I had two major problems on my hand that could have resulted in two things – no car and no iPhone…AHHHHHHHH!!!! I screamed, to myself, or I would have waken up the whole house.  A man can take so much….but I was soooooooo tired and still recovering from heat exhaustion that all I wanted was sleep, which can go a long way on a long road trip.  ZZZZZZZZZZZZ!!!

(Next on A Road Trip Adventure Across America: Visitng with cousins. Climbing Garden of the Gods and Avery’s insightful idea while at the Air Force Academy.)

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