Upon leaving Santa Fe, I drove southeast to Villanueva State Park. This delightful little place is accessible only by a very twisty, narrow road and for that reason I suspect is not hugely popular. But I found it to be quite lovely. There were excellent shower, toilet, and water facilities, a simple network of roads around camp, and a good hiking trail accessible right from the grounds. It had a very "nestled in the mountains" feeling.
BELOW: Looking up at the campsite where I stayed.
It snowed in Villanueva but none of it stuck. I grumpily got my cold weather gear back out - the sleeping bag, the Coleman lantern, the quadruple layering of socks, pants, and shirts. You take the toothbrush from your mouth and its steaming like a ladle of soup.
The next day I drove west on Route 40 for Arizona. BELOW: I spent a night at this little rest-stop outside Springerville along Route 61 (a very peaceful and scenic road at the easternmost fringe of AZ).
Springerville seemed like a neat little mountain town. Perhaps it thrived on tourists like myself who drive in, buy coffee, buy a used paperback, buy gas, and so on. I continued to travel thinking it would be interesting to drive through Tonto National Forest. The first 50 miles, however, were the most psychologically grueling of the road trip thus far. There was a violent north-blowing wind and for those 50 miles I was driving directly west across flat, steppe-like plains where not a tree nor building stood to impede the gusts. In those scenarios the high-top on the van becomes a sail. I had to perpetually steer slightly leftward to keep from blowing off the road. I kept thinking, "This is it. This is the day the van is going to tip over. Its inevitable. It's going to happen..." and all the while cursing myself for buying a high-top van rather than a normal one. Little sedans and SUVs buzzed by me, annoyed and unsympathetic to what I was going through. I couldn't take my hands off the wheel for a second. My iPod, which was set to shuffle, played songs at random without my intervention and so I had to sit through odd tracks from Books on Tape and what not.
My only comfort was knowing that as soon as I hit the town of Show Low, the road turned south. And, as I'd hoped, it did, and the wind ceased. At the same time, the terrain changed dramatically. It seemed I'd emerged in the Swiss Alps:
There were many valleys and gorges to my right and so I pulled over to take pictures.
BELOW: The view I am seeing from the picture ABOVE.
BELOW: Extreme muddyness around the cliff.
The road descended and the snow and firs vanished, replaced by big red rocks and shrubs and small fruity cacti. BELOW: another vista off the side of the road. (This road is Route 60 and if you're ever in the area I highly recommend it).
ABOVE: Exactly 2 months after Frank inscribed this legacy I arrived from Rhode Island to photograph it. How are you, Frank and Jessica? How did you celebrate Valentine's Day? Are things OK? How lovely of you to grace the Arizona desert with a tribute to your blooming relationship. Thanks. Thanks so much.
I'd gotten off to a late start and the sun began to set. I didn't want to navigate those twisty roads with the sun in my face, much less in the dark. So I spent the night at a rest stop beside the ABOVE bridges. Painting a bridge goes a long way toward making it handsome, doesn't it? This was a fine place to park overnight. As the sun set I crawled down to the river and soaked my feet.
The next day I continued on, aiming for Superior, AZ but like the day before I was caught by the setting sun. I saw a sign for "Oak Flats Campground" and followed it. I had heard of these free BLM Arizona campgrounds but always envisioned more of an empty plain. But this was a real campground with firepits, tables, and toilets (no potable water, though). It was a little more rundown than a state park, but so what? I got to park the van beside a little river of snow run-off. All night long I heard it babbling.
Now, for some "Reader Mail". Kate from Purchase, NY writes:
"Take pictures of you and of people and put them on your web page. Thats what i want to see. And animals. More you and animals. And videos. I basically want your face in every picture. In some goofy state! Like with your eyebrow raised or your tongue sticking out. Haha...yea. I can't go to sleep cause i'm tipsy. How about a video you talking to yourself then?"
Thank you, Kate, for reading the blog and for feeling compelled to write me. Unfortunately, since I'm traveling alone, pictures of me with others would be something of a farce. As for animals, I'd love to photograph them and I have (see the San Angelo entry) but for the most part they're evasive. I do have a video camera but at this time have no plans to embed video on the site. Keep reading!