Aug 22, 2011

Road Trip Day 4

We didn't do much exploring in Flagstaff - there didn't appear to be much as we drove through in the evening. We started out a little earlier today, well rested. The first step was to grab food at McDonald's and Safeway, both in the same mall. Lunch would be sandwiches; I had packed some kitchen equipment in the car. We had planned to spend tonight camping in or near Petrified Forest National Park (PFNP), but given the daytime heat, and the flash thunderstorm last night, I decided to go the easy route and camp out in a hotel in Albuquerque instead. We'd have to leave PFNP earlier in the day, but it would put us half a day ahead of schedule on the rest of the drive. So far, it seemed like a good decision.

Route 66 goes all the way through Arizona, and we followed parts of it along the I40 from Flagstaff. The landscape had dried up a bit, and the greenery around the Grand Canyon area turned back into Mojave-like shrubs. Rock formations started peeking up through the desert soil and yellow sandstone mesas started appearing, first in the distance, then closer. The first stop on the drive was Meteor Crater. Along the highway, signs advertised AM 1610 on the radio, which contained a looped advertisement for the crater, as well as the town of Winslow. We took the 6 mile drive to the crater, but balked at the $15/person entrance fee, and dceided to take a photo from the distance. Next up along the route was the Jackrabbit Trading Post, a small curio shop just off the I40. I suspect the shop had seen better days, but as we pulled up, we were the only car in the lot. The store had an assortment of curios and Route 66 souvenirs, as well as a far back wall that had an assortment of suede moccasins, though the wall was about half empty. I remember as kids, we had bought mocassins on some road trip through Utah or Colorado. I wonder if it was at a similar trading post stop. This one had obviously seen better times.

A few years ago I had considered switching fields to photojournalism. In the process I had met a bunch of photographers, and some journalists. During that time, I heard a lot of stories of the glory days of photojournalism in the past. Those were the days when American photographers could be sent to exotic eastern countries, paid well, and put up in expensive hotels. They were the glory days of film, that fantastic medium that evokes nostalgia, but that simply doesn't compete with modern digital cameras. Still, I met photographers who swore they would never stop shooting film. That was a long aside, but the Jackrabbit Trading Post, a fossil stuck in time, refusing to move on, reminded me of the whole industry of journalism, as it struggles to adapt to an age where information flows much more freely through the internet.

The next bunch of fossils appeared at the PFNP. Immediately at the south entrance were petrified logs, behind the visitors' center. Along with giant sequoias and redwoods in California, the petrified forest was something I had read about a good 25 years ago, but had never been able to see until recent years. We had a picnic lunch under some corrugated metal picnic shades by the visitors' center, and spent the next two hours checking out the various sites along the main road. This park seemed like a smaller version of Death Valley. Some of the eroded desert landscapes were familiar, but the petrified logs and petroglyphs stood out. There were plenty of European tourists around, which was a bit different from the flood of Korean tourists in the LA area.

As we got back onto the I40 and headed eastward toward Albuquerque, the landscape got greener, and the mesas got redder. Again, lightning bolts struck far off in the distance in front of us. It was a 4 hour drive onwards to Albuquerque. We made it about halfway when we pulled off to check out Sky City, a native american casino. We probably should have waited until we got to the Route 66 Casino, which seemed far grander and flashy. The Sky City was far less impressive than the highway ads might have suggested (no surprise). The bathrooms were mighty clean, though the sharps disposal container (i.e. syringes) seemed odd. Either there were a lot of diabetics, or addicts. I'm guessing the former, given the number of elderly and obese people I saw around the place. As with most other casinos, the place felt dreary and depressing to me, though the large Bingo room was fairly full, and seemed a bit more social than the slots.

By the time we checked into the hotel and settled down, it was past 8pm, which actually meant that it was past 9pm, since we had passed one time zone. Downtown Albuquerque seemed a little on the sketchy side, most places being open being bars, pool halls, and a strip club. A quick Yelp! search for "late night" at the "current location" didn't turn up anything - most results were closed by 9pm. A Google search popped up an Urbanspoon page, which suggested Frontier restaurant, close to the University. College kids know how to eat cheap. The place was just 10 minutes away, and was still fairly busy. After ordering at the counter I watched fresh flour tortillas being made as I waited for our order. The soft tacos contained a ground meat mix, unlike Californian style carne asada tacos, but they were also served on a 12" flour tortilla, making thems pretty much like half-sized burritos for less than $3. The green chili was delicious, and the large came with two flour tortillas. The iced tea was also surprisingly good, with a strong black tea flavor. A hearty meal for two for $12.61 was pretty much a quarter of the price of dinner at Son of a Gun in L.A., which was a quarter of my last dinner in S.F. I'm pretty sure I'm hitting the bottom end of this trend.

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