We locate Amarillo’s supposedly happening strip, San Jacinto, after our now obligatory detour via a scruffy railroad yard, but it’s very quiet and small, although things get better when we go to a hip, young folk’s coffee shop.
Hip coffee shop.
Mexican lunch next door then on the road again.
Rachel says we should stop at Santa Rosa but I have my sights on Sante Fe, in the neighbouring state of New Mexico. The scenery suddenly changes outside Amarillo from scrubby grassland to desert.
We stop at a Denny’s in the middle of nowhere and get verbally mugged by a motormouthed waitress called Elizabeth who is very friendly and won’t leave us alone, even when the food arrives.
We check in to the Santa Fe Motel and Inn, with yet another great room. Stroll into town, beautiful with all its adobe buildings. I don't manage to get any decent pics in Santa Fe city centre of my own but it basically looks like this (minus the market):
Chilly up here in the mountains. Bloody Mary and grilled trout for me at the San Francisco Bar and Grill. Home.
Overheard of the day: “...but if I could put him on the stand for three months...” Old man in coffee shop
28) Laundromats are clean, well equipped and well managed. Don't be afraid to use them. I drive to a laundromat while R goes to see the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and then goes on about the artist for the rest of the day. Georgia O’Keeffe this, Georgia O’Keeffe that. Enough already! I didn’t go on about my laundromat like that.
We meet for lunch near the plaza and then R goes off to do some shopping while I go back to motel for a read.
On the way I hear a man in the street saying that Owen Wilson has been in town – and was in the Starbuck’s (that R went to) that very morning. Exciting.
Into town again in the evening. First a drink at the San Francisco Bar and Grill from the previous evening and then on to a pizzeria. Back to the motel for a late-night film on fab black and white channel TCM – I pick Strangers on a Train, classic Hitchcock.
High of the day:
R: Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
T: First drink of the evening at the San Francisco Bar and Grill, with the bantering barman.
R: Realising Trevor wasn’t going to share my passion for Georgia O’Keeffe.
T: Killing an hour at the laundromat at the Salanos mall.
We set off for Tent Rocks National Monument and drive through more spectacular scenery. We park and start the walk up Slot Canyon. Immediately I slip and scrape a knuckle down one of the canyon walls, ripping off a small chunk of flesh.
Ascent is unforgettable – the path is very tourist friendly and busy but it’s still fun to be threading our way through narrow canyon walls, snapping the curious rock formations and then bantering unexpectedly with some Germans at the summit.
We then drive about 200 miles to Gallup, where R again comes up with the goods by finding us El Rancho motel, where film stars of the past would stop over on their way to Hollywood and while filming in the area.
Each of the rooms is named after a famous movie person – ours is Robert Taylor. Can’t say I know who he is, even after checking on IMDB.
Try to buy a little drinkie for an apperitif but the garage guy informs me that it’s a “dry city, but not a dry county”. Make of that what you will. It means there’s no drinkies.
T: Wisecracking German on the mountain, for novelty value if nothing else
R: Woman at garage for being patient in fixing a petrol can we had just bought and then slightly broken. Which brings us on to
29) Except in very remote areas, you will need to pay in advance for petrol using your credit card. Either at the pump or inside.
Villain of the day:
T: Me, for parking (accidentally) a bit anti-socially in the mountain car park.
T: The winding narrow bit of the trail up Slot Canyon
T: My now familiar odyssey on foot across defunct garage forecourts to reach other garage forecourts to enquire about alcohol and to be told after a long day’s drive that it’s a dry county.
R: Having to sit in the cold outside to eat breakfast because breakfast room was full.
Overheard of the day: Classic American old man archetype, in dungarees, check shirt, baseball cap and with white moustache, pointing approvingly with fork at something on his plate (green peppers, I think) and saying to waitress: “That’s high dollar!”
Local wisdom of the day: “Bacon makes a classic ice cream even more awesome.” From menu at Denny’s, promoting the Maple Bacon Sundae
Flagstaff historic district.
“Full of f*!!*%* raaage,
Smokin’ purple haaaze!”
Not my words, dear reader, but those of the lead singer of a Mexican heavy metal duo called Sheepheads, performing an acoustic set. But I am getting ahead of myself.
The morning dread descends upon us as we leave the motel and prepare to find some kind of breakfast that doesn’t involve eggs and cheese. So far we have been 80 per cent unsuccessful. We park at a truck stop – our friend Jon Crwys-Williams is adamant that these are where the real stories lie. It’s certainly where the real heart disease lies, as huge Mexicans and lone truckers shovel in eggs over easy/medium/hard with lashings of melted cheese and friend hash browns, all to the blaring soundtrack of a daytime TV show about obesity.
The trucker behind me isn’t happy and growls to the waitress that “this food isn’t fresh”. No shit it’s not fresh. You might as well pay to see a Drew Barrymore film and then complain to the usherette that the plotline isn't fresh. I am anxious as to the trucker’s level of pent-up rage and am pleased to leave the diner with nothing more serious than type-2 diabetes.
The car park sits in a scrubby area, where a man on a mobile is letting his dog get medieval on a patch of dirt. An elderly native American woman appears from behind a parked vehicle and tries to sell me some Navajo jewellery for $20. Or anything I can help her out with. The area seems poor and cheap housing is thrown together randomly by I-40.
Not only did the native Americans get moved around back in the day but they were left to face generations of poverty. The interstate is lined with their many attempts to win passing trade – most from jewellery and other crafts but there are some imaginative attempts to squeeze some passing dollars from existing landmarks: “See the longest map of Route 66!” and “See the largest petrified tree!”
We decide to investigate after seeing signs for a meteor crater and are rewarded with a spectacular sight.
By the way, this is where the 1984 Jeff Bridges film Starman was shot. Not quite up to The Exorcist location pilgrimage but hey I’ll take it.
We are positively ecstatic to buy a Subway roll at the meteor centre.
Vegetables! No fried food! I suddenly feel sheepish for having spurned the hundreds of signs for interstate Subways we have passed over the last fortnight.
30) Don't be snobby about Subways. They can be a provider of much-craved vegetables in a wilderness of interstate fried food.
In other news, Rachel buys a hat.
We drive on to Flagstaff, Arizona, and decide to slum it for once at a $59 Super 8. Okay, nothing slummy about this perfectly acceptable chain (he writes, as Party Central builds up right outside the door). We head for the touristy part of Flagstaff and go for a coffee at the Rendezvous coffee house and bar.
Then a drink. Then dinner at a nice restaurant with a guitarist and on for a few games of pool at a pool hall which has an open mic night, which brings us back to where we started, and the Mexican heavy metal duo, who were pretty good.
UPDATE ON THAT OWEN WILSON RUMOUR: The website www.justspotted.com notes 23 sightings of the great man in Santa Fe in recent days, possibly making a film.
Mannequin of the day: a jaunty scene as a camp man with a moustache fondles a child's head.
I wake very early and wonder if it’s safe to step outside to look for coffee.
31) Safety. Early morning seems to have the same kind of taboo as late at night when it comes to wandering around in some US towns and cities. Don't go moseying too much at that time of day if you're in a dicey urban area.
I leave the room and the road is busy with lone men with carrier bags. One of them comes up to me and mumbles a question, to which I respond with a classic non-reply. He then seems to call me Audrey. I hurry on before the perceived similarities grow in his crazed imagination.
We drive to the Grand Canyon, choosing to simply walk a four-mile route along the south rim.
It’s all wonderful but I can only handle views for so long and have had my fill by the time we leave. Now then, it’s late afternoon, the plan is to just drive a small distance to Williams, Arizona, which will set us up nicely for a journey to Las Vegas the next day... But how much more fun would it be – I think to myself – if we kept driving... to reach Vegas tonight?
Rachel is initially resistant to such madness but eventually comes round to the idea about 30 seconds later. We stop for dinner a very unchainy diner – lots of truckers who look just like Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now – but my decision to have the slightly weird “chicken and fruit” (exactly as it sounds) means I am hungry as Vegas nears.
The drive is quite challenging as there are no streetlights and it’s always hard judging roads you don’t know, particularly at interstate speeds. But by the time we pass the Hoover Dam (in the darkness) we are very excited, and soon the moment we have been waiting for arrives and we suddenly see the bright lights of Vegas before us.
We then have the stress of deciding which of the many exits to take into the seemingly endless city but as usual Rachel guides us flawlessly to Las Vegas Boulevard, passing the Bellagio, Caesar’s Palace, Circus Circus, MGM Grand etc etc and then, at the end of The Strip, our own hotel (randomly decided upon) the Luxor. It’s the one with the black pyramid and the bloody great sphinx outside.
R gets us a good deal ($200 for two nights) and it’s incredibly exciting as we wheel our suitcases into the cavernous lobby – taking in the laser that shoots from the roof on the way – and up to our room. We go down to check out the casino and have a drink then decide to have a nightcap next door, at The Excalibur. It’s shabbier than the Luxor and the barman is rude and weird (tip = $0; that’s how it works, laughing boy).
WE'RE IN VEGAS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Tweet