June 18 – July 6, 2002
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June 21, 2002, Friday – Sedona to Barstow, California
Our waitress the previous evening had mentioned that the entire town of Sedona was so dry from three years of drought that it was like a giant tinderbox. She predicted with conviction that if wildfire broke out in nearby Oak Creek Canyon National Forest that the entire town would burn to the ground. What she said made sense because Sedona (elevation 4,500 feet) is heavily forested with pine trees. Expensive “cabins” and trendy shops are nestled in the stands of timber. There doesn’t seem to be a straight road anywhere around, removing any sense of urbanity that Sedona’s size and
|Lewis on the rocks, Sedona|
|Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
Television news accounts reported that a woman who was lost had accidentally started the “Monster Fire”. She had been walking in the wilderness and lighted a small fire to attract attention and help. The fire quickly spread to consume tens of thousands of acres. By this morning, seven small towns to the east of Sedona had been evacuated.
With our gas tank nearly empty from the unexpected detour yesterday, I resolved during the night to fill up the tank early in the morning, just in case other visitors and residents came to the same conclusion that I had reached. If we had to hotfoot it out of town in the face of conflagration, it was essential that Sally have enough gas to get us a couple of hundred miles away. My frequent traveling companion, Prudence, alerted me that there might not be time to stop for gas in any panic-laden emergency, even if any stations were open.
So at 6:30 a.m., I drove Sally a short distance to a convenience store and paid $1.58 per gallon to fill up with unleaded gas. There were several other early-rising men who must have also had empty tanks and “just in case” premonitions. Thankfully, Sedona was spared and we had no further brushes with the Monster Fire’s smoke. It was another couple of weeks before the winds quieted and thousands of firefighters finally extinguished the largest fire in Arizona history.
Breakfast for me was takeout scrambled eggs and hash browns from the Quality’s restaurant; Betty had a Honey Bun I bought for her at the nearby quick stop. Even though it was only 7:30 a.m., the telecast World Cup quarterfinal soccer game between the national teams representing the United States and Germany was already over. Unfortunately, the amazing Americans lost, 0-to-1. Germany went on to the finals, where they were beaten by Brazil.
I had been getting up early for three weeks to watch most of the 6:30 a.m. games and videotaping the 1:30 a.m. games for later viewing. The games are telecast live so early in the U.S. because they are played many time zones away, in the host countries of Japan and South Korea. It’s too bad that the World Cup only comes around every four years since I really enjoy watching the best players in the world compete with the whole world watching. What a great sport, mainly devoid of the excesses and overpaid horses Asses that are so much a part of professional football, basketball and even baseball in the U.S. But now, with my favorite teams soccer knocked out (U.S., Ireland and England), my interest is much diminished.
In the absence of a World Cup game to watch, I took advantage of our suite’s whirlpool bath to ease a pulled muscle in my left thigh. Driving for hours on end has aggravated it. Sitting on a small pillow on the drivers’ seat helps prop it up, as does two or three capsules per day of indomethacin, a strong anti-inflammatory drug available by prescription. The sore leg has been bothering me for several weeks, cutting into my usual program of daily walks of a mile or two with Dickens and weekly sessions with weights at a health club near our home.
We checked out of the Quality at 8:30 a.m. We then visited a few stores in Sedona, where Betty bought some souvenirs and postcards. In every direction there are grand views of the red rock formations, which present a different beauty in the morning sun from that seen during the day and at
|Lewis & Betty at Sedona|
|Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
It would have been a real bummer to come this far only to be diverted back to the long detour. As much as we understand and support the fire prevention measures, neither of us smokes. So there is no chance of us flipping a lighted cigarette out the window. And with my bum leg, there is little chance of us hiking the canyon trails and lighting a signal fire or campfire to cook hot dogs. We sneaked a few quick photos while Sally briefly pulled over (engine still running) into the ubiquitous “no parking” zones closed with construction barricades. Over the centuries, Oak Creek has carved a steep-sided canyon out of the red rocks. The stream runs clear and is 10-to-15 feet wide, with occasional calm pools and baby rapids. The floor of the canyon is covered with oak and other hardwood trees. Tenacious pines grow between the rocks on both sides of the water-carved ravine. It’s quite beautiful and I wish we could have walked along the stream. Perhaps another time.
We had no reason to push it since our plan was to spend the night in Barstow, the California desert town that is 210 miles east of Santa Barbara. That distance put us two or three hours from the heavy traffic of L.A., meaning a morning start could put us through the worst of the congestion before lunchtime. Casey had warned us that L.A. traffic is beyond awful before 10 a.m. and after 2 p.m.; it had taken him 5 hours to get through the snarls and gridlock to San Diego the previous week.
So with time on our hands, we searched out the Flagstaff Arboretum and Botanic Garden to take advantage of free admission offered under a reciprocal arrangement for members of the Memphis Botanic Gardens. It was plain that the Flagstaff membership doesn’t have the political clout or wealth enjoyed by similar organizations in other cities. The 200-acre arboretum is in a National Forest several miles outside of town and located three miles down a washboard, gravel road. Sally kicked up a small cloud of red dust and quickly needed a bath by the time we got to the arboretum.
The garden specializes in flora of the Colorado Plateau. The native plants have adapted to conditions at 7,000 feet elevation, including a short growing season, extreme temperatures and low annual precipitation. It was OK, but the plants were neither numerous nor diverse. Nor were they displayed with any particular style. And other than a school group or two, visitors were scarce this day.
The bumpy, gravel road is a major barrier to visitation. In the absence of visitors, income obviously suffers. And without sufficient income, plantings and maintenance are limited. It is a conundrum I’m glad we
|Betty at Flagstaff Arboretum|
|Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
We stopped for lunch at a travel center west of Flagstaff, one of the many behemoths along I-40 that combine truck stops/fast food franchises/convenience outlets/truck equipment stores/and trucker services. This one offered Subway sandwiches, showers and massages. We stuck to the ham and turkey. Most of the I-40 route west of Flagstaff was new to us. Our two previous driving trips to California were on different routes. On the last trip we backtracked I-40 from the Grand Canyon to drive south from Flagstaff on I-17 toward Tucson, where we picked up I-10 and I-8 west. Twenty years ago we went north through Salt Lake City.
Most of the Arizona portion of today’s drive was quite scenic, with tall pine trees framing the distant Southern Rockies. At one point we were at 7,000 feet elevation and our ears were popping. As we came down the western side of the escarpment, the flora changed from high mountain trees and plants to desert varieties. With the lower elevations, the temperature soared and the wind climbed, with many signs warning of high winds near passes and clefts in the rocks. Near the California border were the remains of ancient lava flows. Small mounds of black rock and large fields of barren lava provided evidence of a hellish eruption millennia ago.
We arrived at Barstow, Calif., about 5:30 p.m. to learn that a girls’ softball tournament was taking a lot of motel rooms. With the desk managers having no incentive to negotiate, we ended up paying $66 for a room at the Comfort Inn. While the room was large and furnishings new, it seemed like an outrageous price compared to what we had been paying so far. At least the free breakfast was good the next morning.
We ate a light supper at a nearby Denny’s (turkey sandwich and salad for me, soup and salad for Betty). Our waitress was a direct talking, Army brat working in Barstow for the summer between semesters at the University of Colorado. She told us how no state recognizes her as a legal resident for college tuition purposes because of the frequent transfers by the Army of her father. It is shameful how crummy our nation treats its defenders and their families. I gave the young woman some advice based on my long-ago success in convincing the registrar at Mississippi State University to recognize me as a state resident immediately after my military service.