(June 26, 2001) Up and out by 6:00 a.m., and, oh, did the kids ever know something fishy was going on. The front drapes were open and Dusty, who hasn’t been in that window for months, was sitting there staring at us as we pulled out of the driveway. “Oh,” he seemed to be saying, “don’t abandon us. We’ll be good, we’ll be good, I promise!” But we just drove away, leaving the two of them there for the cat sitter to tend.
I took it to Flagstaff where we found a Denny’s for breakfast. Then Rosalie took over and drove just past Albuquerque. The roads were good, the car was behaving, it was just the song of the open road.
Neither of us can yet get over the beauty and diversity of Arizona. The drive up the hill to Flagstaff is a mini-tour of what the state has to offer—heat and desert of the Valley floor, then up and up to the summit before Verde Valley and then the lush vista of the valley as you sweep back down, then up again and around and around until you crest at the upper plateau with that huge view from the overlook, and miles of plateau farm and ranch land before entering the pine forests before Flagstaff with Whitney’s Peak towering over you, then east on Hwy 40 over toward the meteor strike with the Painted Desert to the north, and then the black lava beds just before leaving the state. Awesome.
Western New Mexico has a bleakness about it that I find depressing. Maybe it’s the evidence of the extreme poverty of Indian reservations, or maybe it’s simply the absence of much animal or human existence. The one bit of beauty is the multicolored layers of cliff faces and the wind-hollowed sandstone hills along the highway. Albuquerque spreads greenly before you as you cross the last slope before going down into the valley. Northern New Mexico, ah, there’s the real beauty of the state. You start climbing as you head north out of Albuquerque to Santa Fe and then east to Las Vegas, about 6500 feet above sea level. The air is delightfully cool after the temperatures near 110º in the Valley of the Sun.
The high country from Las Vegas to Raton is simply beautiful—lush green pastureland with the Rockies in the western distance. You climb again into Raton and then climb some more until you hit the Colorado border where the land levels out into sweeping fields of grass to the right and the ever-encroaching Rockies to the left. We spotted Pike’s Peak about twenty miles from Colorado Springs. Only specks of snow on it, unlike several years ago when we returned by way of Wyoming and the Peak was entirely snow-capped.
North out of North Platte, Nebraska, and through the Sand Hills. The road was as empty this time as on previous trips, just sand hills, increasing yucca plants, and lots of sky. Then Valentine and a short hop to South Dakota. About two miles from the state line, we passed the Rosebud Casino. How depressing. Reservation Indians milking the occasional traveler into testing their slots.
Then into South Dakota. And along the ditches were the state fatality signs. I’d forgotten about them. The state, ever since I can remember, would put up staked signs with a red X on a white background bordered in black with a large THINK! under the X. One sign for each fatality, some accidents forever marked with a cluster of five or six signs, sort of a metal bouquet for the dead. But the South Dakota countryside looked really good, verdant green with cows everywhere. Neither Rosalie nor I had ever seen so many cows. Later, someone told us that ranchers had been buying up Montana cattle at cut rates because of a drought in that state, then bringing them to South Dakota to fatten them up before selling them at large profit. Cows and cows everywhere. But we didn’t see a single pheasant. Nary a one. An indication of either a devastating winter or a carryover from the days of DDT overuse.