Around the American Southwest

Trip Start Mar 30, 2003
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Trip End Jan 30, 2004


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Flag of United States  , Texas
Sunday, January 18, 2004

Where have I been so far this month?
After recovering from the excesses of the New Year celebrations in LA I hit the road to head east. First stop was Palm Springs, then on the backways of Arizona, staying at Sedona, the Grand Canyon and Window Rock, capital of the Navajo Nation. Given that I started my trip amongst Indians perhaps it's appropriate that I finish it amongst Red Indians......

From there it was over the state border towards Santa Fe, New Mexico. Lack of time and boredom with driving made me give up my plan of driving all the way to Dallas, so I took a flight from Albuquerque instead.

So, what was it like?
Palm Springs was very quiet, but quite hot. One attraction was the Aerial Tramway, a revolving cable car which quickly climbed to 8,600 feet. Within an hour of sunbathing at the hotel in the desert I was walking through snow in alpine scenery. There was also a great outlet shopping mall at Cabazon, nearby, where I spent too much money.

At Palm Springs Paul and Philippe headed back to LAX to return to Europe and I headed east into Arizona. There were plenty of giant saguaro cactus in this arid area. Before Phoenix I decided to get off the freeway and head north through some small Arizona towns. The 89A turned out to be a great scenic route - I stopped at Wickenburg, which would still have the appearance of a 19th century wild west town if it were not for the amount of traffic passing through it; Prescott, with old saloons on Whisky Row; and Jerome, a former copper mining town built on a mountain side and now full of art galleries.

From Jerome it was a short drive up to Sedona, famed for its red cliffs and rocks. In the late afternoon and at sunset the colour of the rocks was simply beautiful. Route 89A continued north through Oak Creek Canyon towards Flagstaff. The scenery is again quite stunning here - I drove through ponderosa tree forest between red, orange and white coloured cliffs, stopping for a 3 hour hike at West Fork. It was here I began to notice how cold it was getting - due to the higher altitude there was snow on the ground round there.

I did not stop in Flagstaff but headed west along the famed 'Route 66' towards Williams, the closest town to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Williams was pretty dead - plenty of shops and cafes had 'Closed for the season - back in March' signs up, so I headed straight on to the Canyon. There it was definitely very cold! I stayed at the 'historic' El Tovar hotel on the edge of the south rim, built in the 1870s when the railroad arrived from Santa Fe. As it was the only historic hotel on the rim it was able to get away with over-charging for poor service and facilities.

From El Tovar it was a 30 mile drive east along the south rim, stopping at various viewpoints before emerging at the town of Cameron which (phew!) had a gas station. Around here is the Navajo Nation land, the largest native American reservation at about the size of Virginia. The Navajo maintain a sense of independence by keeping themselves in a separate time zone from the rest of Arizona and producing lots of handicrafts for tourists. The Hopi tribe have a reservation within the Navajo Nation (I didn't ask what the time was there), produce different sorts of handicrafts and have stone houses. One Hopi village, Old Oraibi, claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in North America (since 1150AD). Unfortunately 850 years does not seem to be long enough for them to build decent access roads and houses that look as if they might stay up...

Back in Navajo territory I stopped at the Hubbell Trading Post, a Historic Monument which is still trading after 130 years, and Window Rock, the Navajo 'capital', where I stayed the night. Dining options there were limited - Taco Bell for dinner and a MacBreakfast the next day, so I am worried about returning home with a supersized waistline. Unfortunately there was not time available to detour to Monument Valley, filming location for many an old John Wayne movie, which is towards the north of the Navajo land.

The next day it was back towards Route 66 and on to Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico. This settlement of adobe houses and a 16th century Spanish church has a dramatic location on a hill and is therefore known as 'Sky City', even though only 30 people live there. I took a guided tour and, guess what?, I was told that it was the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in North America. The village certainly looks a lot better than Old Oraibi, although maybe that's because of the profits from the Acoma's casino down the road.

Santa Fe was always going to be a highlight of my trip, maybe because of that song about the town in the musical 'Rent'. (I first saw it at an impressionable age...) The middle of town around the Plaza and Cathedral is very pretty, although the buildings that appear to be Spanish colonial were all built in the early 20th century. I stayed at La Fonda Hotel which occupied a block near the Plaza (www.lafondasantafe.com) and where I managed to negotiate a super cheap rate because the town was fairly empty. This was certainly a great place to soak up some art and culture - I went to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, the Palace of the Governors (400 years old, but largely rebuilt 90 years ago) and the Museum of Fine Arts, as well as many of the galleries. It was interesting that the Acoma and Navajo pottery which I bought on the reservations were here being sold for about 5 times the price I paid.

From Santa Fe it is only an hour south to Albuquerque airport, from where I headed to Dallas. A romantic theme soon developed - my plane landed at Love Field airport and I am staying just off Lovers' Lane! I have already done the main tourist site - the Sixth Floor Museum in the old Texas School Book Depository from where Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK. A notice on the door of the museum said 'No Firearms'. Hmmm, isn't that sign a bit late now? I also went to the new Nasher Sculpture Center with many interesting pieces in its garden.

Otherwise, Dallas is a great city just for hanging out in restaurants and shopping malls. It helps that in general it has been about 40F degrees warmer than in Santa Fe. I am grateful to my friend Michael for putting me up, showing me around and introducing me to so many people. Dallas folk really are so friendly! This has been a great way to end my trip of a lifetime.
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