Saturday, April 27, 2013

Home is where Grace is

I drove up Highway 60 from Mesa to Petrified Forest National Park on Thursday to start my volunteer job a few days early. Highway 60 is a spectacular dotted road to travel, with the geography changing from giant sand-colored boulders fitted neatly together and rising hundreds of feet high to sweeping expanses of terraced mountains lightly covered in green. Bridges have delicately-arched supports crossing chasms that plummet to unseen depths. The horizon can be at hand or far distant with ever-lighter hills and mountains fading away. I will be driving this road again because it's one to travel at leisure and I didn't have that luxury
this time.

Not only did I want to take 60 north because it's dotted but because it passes through Show Low, Arizona. I like the name. Show Low, Show Low, Show Low. See what I mean? Show Low is much bigger than I expected and I stopped for some last minute things, including strawberries at 99 cents a quart and baby spinach at $1 a bag. I have room for neither in my fridge, and already had strawberries and spinach, but the deal was too good to pass up, so dinner was a quart of strawberries. Today will see the demise of a good part of the spinach; I see a stir fry in its future. I wish I'd also taken advantage of a propane fill because I found out I can't get propane at the park but have to go to Holbrook, a good 30 minutes away. I use propane for my furnace and water heater. Furnace, you say? Oh, yes! I had the a/c on in Mesa the day before and Thursday night I turned on the heater. I love all four seasons; don't you? I just don't like them all to show up within 24 hours.

I did manage a couple of stops along the way to get some pictures of the Salt River tumbling through a deep canyon. I had been playing tag with a small motorhome for some time and at one point we both pulled over to let faster drivers go ahead. I was at the first stop, snapping away and admiring the view, when a guy came down the stairs to the platform where I was standing. He turned out to be the driver of the other motorhome and we agreed the view was beautiful. It's amazing what you can learn if you just say hello. Divorced; originally from Brooklyn but moved to south Florida as a child and never lost the Brooklyn accent, but did manage to refine it a bit to say bathroom instead of batroom; had a girlfriend named Kathy for 10 years but broke up with her when she didn't "get" the relationship or something, I'm not clear on that; travels three to four months at a time on roads he plots out in advance; was in construction but is now retired; named Emil but pronounced A-meeul because that's the Italian pronunciation; wanted a Roadtrek van like mine but balked at the price of a new one; and wanted to leave Florida but now has a granddaughter who is like "a gas station for [my] heart"  and he can't leave after all. I got all this in no more than 25 minutes split between the two pullouts, and OMG, he was good looking. When that thought went through my head it was immediately followed by, "Thank God! I'm not dead after all!" Oh, and he turns 60 in July. I forgot that one. I've found most people will talk and talk if you just let them. It was a pleasant 25 minutes, admiring two views if you get my drift.

Yesterday I met with the volunteer coordinator to do the new job thing, including meeting the woman I'll be working for, who showed me the piles o' work to be done and I'm as happy as I can be. If that's not enough, the washer and dryer are free, there's a fridge for overflow food that won't fit in my little shoebox so I can actually stock up when I go to town, I have a nice neighbor who's lent me a small heater so I don't have to run my furnace, I get a small daily stipend for meals, and I can check out a government car to explore the park. Did you hear that? I don't have to unplug and disconnect Grace to drive around the park; they let me
take a car from the pool! So I did and spent a couple of hours seeing a tiny fraction of the park. 


If not for the nonexistent wifi in the RV area, it would all be pretty darned good. I don't mean weak wifi; it really does not exist even with a booster I have. I'm typing this standing at a trash can with the laptop on top, outside the visitor center. Five bars of signal strength and it seems like dial-up. I have pictures to upload but nothing's happening. I'd forgotten how slow dial-up is, not saying that's what it actually is, and how maddening it is to wait and wait. I'm up against my roaming limits for the month because it seems Sprint has no towers within 100 miles of anywhere I've traveled so far. In addition to which, I called Sprint about just that last night and was told I'm not allowed to use my hotspot if I'm on roaming so I guess I'm looking at Verizon and paying more every month, but I have to have the Internet and one faster than snail speed. Ten years ago this would have been a minor inconvenience; now it's like not having electricity.

This place is beautiful, not in the heart-stopping way of Arches or Bryce Canyon, but in the way of broad vistas interrupted by oases of color and depth and texture. Half a million visitors a year come to this remote place to view the horizon meeting a sky punctuated by clouds lined up like ships in port, or the blue Mesa of varicolored teepees of bentonite clay, or the chunks of agatized or opalescent petrified wood lying around like so much litter. It will take me all of the weekends of the five months I'll be here to see everything. How lucky can I get?


This morning I took a long walk, the first one in way too long, out to the Painted Desert Inn. Round trip was about 5 miles and I didn't die despite an elevation of about 5800 feet. One of my goals of being on the road full time was to see all the National Historic Landmarks and this one fell at my feet. The Inn has had a rocky life, having been built on unstable soil. The whole area here is bentonite clay. All the buildings have the same problem and maintenance is ongoing and relentless. Bentonite clay acts like kitty litter. It expands when it's wet and contracts and cracks when it dries out. I'm no engineer but I don't think that makes for an ideal foundation.

I'm off to visit Verizon's website to see what the damage will be. I know it won't be good. Donations accepted.

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