Chapter One: Prologue
Chapter Two: He Ain't a Crack Addict Bum, he's my Furniture Mover
Chapter Three: The Truck Who Sang Bleeds to Death
Chapter Four: Attacked by Indians
Chapter Five: Why I've Never Liked Winona Ryder
I woke up bright and refreshed in Flagstaff on Saturday morning, opened the curtains and looked out in disbelief on dark gray skies and pouring rain. Did you know that the name "Arizona" comes from the Spanish for "arid zone"? Average rainfall is less than 2 inches a month, and October is one of the driest months. I called the company I'd booked a scenic flight around the Grand Canyon with, and they told me that all flights that day were cancelled. This was a major drag, because this was by far the most scenic part of the country I was driving through, and I'd gone to quite a bit of effort to have at least some free time here for looking around. Now I had to decide what I was going to do, push on immediately towards California and perhaps arrive a day early, or try to salvage the best of a bad situation and go up to the Grand Canyon in the rain?
In the end I decided to push on up to the Grand Canyon. Even if it was raining up there, the trip shouldn't be a total waste of effort, because there's an aircraft museum at Valle, about half-way between Flagstaff and the canyon itself, and aircraft museums are one of my main interests. I headed off just around the time that the rain eased off. It wasn't much consolation, since the clouds were still thick, dark and threatening. Photographs of the canyon weren't going to be much good under such conditions, but maybe it would be better than nothing.
By the time I got to Valle, there were small amounts of blue poking through the heavens. I wondered if I should skip the museum and head straight up to the canyon while the bad weather held off. But I decided to stop off at the museum, which is called Planes of Fame at the Grand Canyon. It's at this site because facilities like land to build the hangar on was offered to them for next to nothing, and the constant flow of tourists up to the canyon meant that a steady stream of visitors was guaranteed - though when I first arrived around 10 or 11 AM, I was the only visitor there.
The museum has some very good aircraft, including General MacArthur's personal C-121 Constellation aircraft, named "Bataan" after the place in the Phillipines where he was initially defeated and then returned, victorious. It also has a Japanese Ohka rocket-powered kamikaze plane, and some early jets, including a rarely seen Grumman F-11 Tiger, a British Vampire, Republic F-84 Thunderjet and a Russian MiG-15.
I spent an hour or two there taking photos with my camera and tripod, and then using a flash to take photos inside the Constellation, which is still in flying condition and has original flight equipment still in place, though the cabin area where MacArthur worked needed reconstruction and restoration.
|OK, so what's the point of maintaining the pretense any longer? By the time I finally got up to the Grand Canyon the weather had turned very nice, with blue skies and white, fluffy clouds. I was able to get lots of nice photos of the canyon itself, as well as of some of the squirrels which make a living by freeloading off the kindness of strangers, remunerating them by providing lots of photo opportunities.|
so the trip up to the Grand Canyon had worked out far better than I expected,
so how about trying to stretch my winning streak to take in the Petrified
Forest and Meteor Crater, which is on the same stretch of interstate between
the Petrified Forest and Flagstaff? Time didn't look like it
was on my side, since it was around 2PM, and it's about a three hour drive
between the canyon and Meteor Crater. I decided to cut my losses
and just try for the crater.
On the road south of Valle, some people in a car decided that life was just too long and they wanted to see Jesus - NOW! In other words, some idiot decided that overtaking me while approaching a blind corner was a great idea. Perhaps they underestimated the length of the truck (32 feet plus about 18 feet more for the trailer), or how bad the acceleration of their car would be when there were five occupants. Anyway, they started overtaking and before they'd even drawn level with the truck cab, a car appeared, coming in the opposite direction. There was absolutely no way that the overtaking car could get past me before the other car reached us, and they probably wouldn't even be able to slow down fast enough to get back into the right lane behind me, before the other car hit them.
At this point, the astute among you might have noticed that this text is next to a photograph of a very large hole in the ground, rather than a photo of bleeding, broken and groaning bodies sprawled over a road. This is entirely due to my alertness as to what these fools were attempting, and my willingness to brake really hard and risk jack-knifing my truck and trailer. And so fools overtake successfully, innocent motorists driving in opposite direction get to live another day, and I give fools an audible expression of my thoughts and feelings regarding the maneuver they'd just made. An irritating and unnecessary event, but in the end a win-win-win situation.
As expected, I arrive at Meteor Crater around 5PM. Surprisingly, this extraordinary scenic wonder is privately owned, so instead of being closed it would be open for another half-hour, long enough for me to take a few photos. Unfortunately, by now it was raining fairly heavily, even though the sun was shining less than 10 miles to the north, on the other side of the interstate. Nevertheless, the crater certainly is an impressive sight to behold, and the visitors' center is very slick and well presented. Well worth a look, and if you get there earlier in the day then you can take a walk around its rim.
I jumped back in the truck to continue my journey. I'd already noticed that I was getting low on fuel, so I figured I'd stop at the gas station owned and operated by the same people who own Meteor Crater. But their gasoline was over $1.80 a gallon - Outrageous! - so I decided that I'd keep going until I found somewhere cheaper.
three or four miles down the interstate the truck started coughing and
I began to wonder if I'd made the right decision. I wasn't
sure that it was a fuel problem, but it seemed likely. Then
the truck started running smoothly again, so I decided I'd pull into the
next gas station - regardless of the price! Then I started
up another slight incline and the truck started coughing again.
Somehow I nursed it over the top and all was again well - which sort
of confirmed the fuel theory. Would I make it to the next town?
Answer, no. The next incline wasn't very steep, but it was
quite long and before I got anywhere near the top the engine spluttered
its last splutter, and I was forced to pull over to the side.
How could I have been so stupid that I allowed this situation to happen? Well, I'm glad you asked, because that's what I'm about to explain. Here you see exhibit A - the fuel gauge of the U-haul truck. This is what it looks like when the truck is full of gasoline. Take note of the wonderfully depicted symbols, and pay particular attention to the position of the bright orange fuel level marker. Admire its wonderful symmetry, marvel at its functionality and observe its position relative to the "full" symbol. So now, I ask you, where would you expect this marker to be when the gas tank is empty? Choose carefully, and then click on the photo to see whether you were right or not.
Perhaps I'm just too logical, and I expected too much of this fuel gauge but, as you can see, the moment the marker hits the left edge of the leftmost rectangle, you're fried. Out of luck. Done for. As I sat fuming by the side of the interstate, I realized that this fuel gauge was either designed by some geekish engineer who doesn't know how to drive and therefore doesn't know any better, or by some other type of vicious sociopath, who intentionally devised it to be as misleading as possible and is probably sitting alone on a couch in his flea-infested single room apartment right now, giggling helplessly about the havoc and chaos he has caused countless victims.
So what was my fate to be? Would I be eaten by coyotes as the gathering night enveloped my tiny, fragile capsule of civilization? Would I step outside the truck and be bitten by a seething carpet of rattlesnakes before my foot hit the ground? Should I wait for morning and eventual rescue? Should I walk to the next town, buy a can of gasoline and walk back? Hell no, to all of these! I took my car off the trailer, drove about 10 miles to the next town, which was called Winona, bought some gas, drove back to the truck, poured in the gas, put the car back on the trailer, then drove back to Winona to return the gas tank I'd borrowed. Of course all of this takes a while, so I lost a fair bit of time - about an hour and a half.
I was moving again,
but I didn't quite know whether I should stop for the night before I reached
Phoenix, or continue on to the other side of Phoenix. I decided
to keep going until I came across a motel in the sort of price range I
wanted to pay. Since many places advertise their rates on large
signs along the road, I wouldn't have to stop to figure this out.
It seemed, though, that I was going to be out of luck. Unlike
Flagstaff and many other places I'd seen since leaving Chicago, Phoenix
didn't seem to have any cheap places at all. Even down-market
motel chains like Motel 6 were charging $80 for a night. I
was really surprised, since I don't imagine that this is a busy time of
the year. So I kept going and eventually turned on to interstate
10, which runs through Phoenix and on to Los Angeles. I was
now getting to the city limits of Phoenix and still there was no sign of
anything reasonable. After about an hour I'd had enough and
so I pulled over at one of the very few motels along this stretch of highway.
This one was run by a Jehovah's Witness and unfortunately it was full.
He explained that the absence of motels was due to the lack of water in
this area. I had little choice except to keep driving.
Say what you will about sharing the road with eighteen wheelers, they have brought some benefits for travellers like me - such as rest stops. Not only are rest stops useful for making - ahh - pit stops, but a lot of truckers stop there for the night, rather than staying in motels or such like. They can pull the curtains (often literally) and crawl off into whatever they call the sleeping compartment behind the cab, to revel in goodness knows what decadent luxuries beyond the sight and thought of ordinary mortals such as I. Instead, I had to settle for sleeping in the cab of my truck. This was really only possible because it had a bench seat, and it was also made easier by the liberal use of earplugs and eyeshades, a habit I'd picked up while travelling in third world countries and staying in cheap hotels. My only real concessions to luxury were a sleeping bag and pillows from the back of the truck. Nevertheless, by the time morning arrived, I'd had considerably more sleep than I got in the Motel of Horror in Vega.
From here it really was a relaxed drive into Palm Springs. Before leaving Arizona and entering California, I stopped off at Quartzsite (that's right, not Quartzite), whose population swells each winter with several huge communities of RVers (recreational vehiclers) who escape the cold of the north and plonk themselves down in the desert for the duration of the winter. Goodness knows what they do the whole time they're parked in these dried-up areas, but at least it's warm and sunny.
Eschewing the dubious pleasures of the General Patton museum at some no-name desert stop, and the very real pleasures of Joshua Tree national park, I pushed on to Palm Springs. It turned out to be on the left-hand side of the interstate, although I'd clearly imagined it to be on the right-hand side (just as I'd erroneously imagined the Colorado river flowing from west to east through the Grand Canyon, and the Niagara Falls facing south).
Another thing I hadn't counted on was the large mountains directly behind Palm Springs. I knew that there were hills, but it turns out that the three tallest mountains in southern California are all right in this area, San Gorgonia (11,499 feet or 3450 meters), San Bernadino (10,691 feet or 3259 meters) and San Jacinto (10,804 feet or 3240 meters). A week or so after I arrived there was a light dusting of snow on these peaks, while down in the valley the temperature stayed in the 70s. Sounds like heaven to me!
OK, we're not even at the end of this chapter and already I can hearing you muttering under your breath and saying, "this didn't have anything to do with Winona Ryder". Well, strictly speaking that's true, but I did run out of fuel at Winona, right? And Ryder trucks are the same sort of thing as U-haul trucks, right? So really I'm perfectly justified making this connection, especially since I really have never liked Winona Ryder in any of her movies, except that maybe she did an adequate job in Alien Resurrection.