Saturday, 21 December 2013

It's a small world...

So our last update was a little while ago now and that was actually posted a fair while after it all happened too. We have been a bit rubbish with the blog updates since Texas and that is for a pretty good reason – we’ve been far too busy enjoying ourselves! As I’m actually writing this, the trip is very nearly at an end and we’re 8 days away from getting ourselves to Vegas and jetting back to the UK. There have been some unexpected twists in the plot but unfortunately you’re probably going to have to wait to read about those because we have some serious catching up to do. So with this update, I’m actually going to go back around 3 weeks ago, which will be interesting to try and remember what we were doing but I’ll give it my best shot!

Ben’s last blog post, as you might have noticed, was very much rodeo themed and this is where I pick up. We left the rodeo that night and headed to a Walmart on the outskirts of Fort Worth where we had two intentions – firstly to buy ourselves some grub as we were absolutely Hank Marvin (starving!) and secondly so we could use it as a cheeky place to crash. Now I think this was actually our first time crashing out in a Walmart car park and we were a little nervous because they had a fairly strong security presence with a car patrolling the parking lot and some sort of observation tower with ‘Fort Worth Police’ or something similar written on the side. Our friend Jon had told us that Walmart didn’t mind people staying in their car parks in RVs and the like so we were about to put it to the test. We found a couple of quiet spaces away from the store and started to convert the ‘burb into a camper while Matt had the luxury of not having too much gear and his mattress would always remain laid out. I should explain here, in case anyone else is confused that Matt is my brother who’s out here in America for a cheeky little four week roadtrip of his own and he was convoying with us across this stretch before we split off to go to California. A little nervous, we bedded down for the night and slept reasonably well before getting up relatively early and hitting the western shops yet again. I had to return a shirt I’d bought because the sleeve was damaged and Ben and Matt wanted to buy more cowboy accessories... (ha). Matt also wanted to get a US sim card for his phone so we stopped by T-Mobile too along with Ben trying to see if it were possible to get his laptop fixed. Unfortunately that ended up taking up quite a chunk of our day so it was mid afternoon by the time we heading north with the next goal to hit the next state of Oklahoma. We didn’t have a huge reason to go there and in fact probably the main one was that we wanted to colour in that state on the map because it was literally the only one we hadn’t done in the southern US. With that, we checked out the map and spotted a wildlife preserve next to a lake somewhere near Wichita Falls and thought it would be an ideal opportunity to see some more beautiful countryside. We ploughed on a good few hours and it was rather dark when we arrived so finding where we were supposed to go proved interesting! The main campsite was closed so we took off in search of a picnic area we knew to be nearby but got lost again. Eventually Ben lead us up into a trailhead parking area slap bang on the shores of a big lake. We couldn’t see much of it that night but we had a good feeling that it would be a good view in the morning. The trusty (and rusty) Colman grille was brought out once again and Matt and I cooked up some grub for the three of us, making use of the larger pots we got at the beginning of the trip so we could feed 3 hungry mouths this time! Meanwhile, Ben prepared the ‘burb and after we’d eaten we all got in the back and killed some time chatting, mostly about farming in the case of Ben and Matt so I didn’t have too much to contribute on that front.

The next day was another where we were trying to get the miles in and headed back into Texas, aiming to get trucking west on the I40 but as some of you might know, this runs along the infamous ‘Route 66’ also known as the ‘main street of America’. This road was crucial to the massive expansion of the west coast and mass migration in the 20s and 30s. Now much of it doesn’t exist anymore  as it’s either fallen into disrepair or been replaced by the I40 but there’s a good few stretches where the I40 actually bypasses some of the old towns that grew up by the side of the ’66 and you can turn off the interstate and drive parts of this historic road. So that’s exactly what we were doing, we trundled along the interstate and followed the signs off the road every so often to check out what was there. Some of the places were sad little towns with dried up gas stations long abandoned after the interstate cut off their blood supply of passing motorists. A few people still lived in these places and you do have to wonder why sometimes, they all seem like little towns down on their luck and it’s actually kind of tragic. After a day exploring Route 66 and not seeing too much, the sun was setting and we needed a place to sleep so a browse of the shredded scraps of map we had been handed down showed there was a rest area nearby, we took a chance and headed on. It paid off and we came across what I could only describe as the nicest rest area I’ve ever seen in my life, for good reason – it actually doubled as tornado shelter so was absolutely solidly built and easily able to cope with the storm that had just started rolling in. We got there just in time to witness yet another beautiful sunset over the Texas panhandle. Whilst we were taking pictures a minivan pulled into the rest area car park a couple of spaces over from us on Quebec plates with wheels strapped to the roof sporting some worn out tyres. We could tell when they got out they were like us, young and broke and rocking that minivan around America, I thought about trying to strike up conversation with them but we weren’t sure if they were French speakers and whether they would even want to talk to us so we carried on setting up and started on the food. By this time it was dark and the wind was starting to get up a little, we tucked the grille in behind a wall, got cooking and had a cheeky beer with our food. We got ourselves off to bed nice and early but unfortunately I can’t say any of us really slept that well – the storm I mentioned drew in and it got very cold that night, not to mention the high winds that started battering the ‘burb and we actually getting pitched around as the wind got underneath the car and rocked it on the suspension. It was certainly an interesting night but by morning things had cleared up again but it was still freezing!

That morning myself and Matt headed off to find a motel in Amarillo while Ben wanted some alone time and went off to explore a bit more along Route 66. That afternoon we checked in and enjoyed some hot showers to warm us up before getting on with the important task of catching up with back home through the medium of Facebook and the like. We ordered in another pizza in true motel tradition and watched a bit of TV. Exciting times. The next morning Ben went off to go return the broken keyboard he bought and get some xmas presents sorted so Matt and I headed to Cavender’s western store once more so he could do some more shopping. Any of you who know my brother know that he despises clothes shopping more than anything in the world so I was slightly taken aback at the number of times he was up for heading to these kind of establishments and actually buying himself clothes – mum would be proud! A fairly uneventful day involving sorting things out and shopping was once more drawing to a close so we decided to get back onto Route 66 through Amarillo and head just out of it to a little spot Ben had found just off the freeway. It was a large loose dirt area and I wasted no time in borrowing Matt’s rental car to attempt some J-turns, lots of fun. We got sensible and used Matt’s new procured Colman grille to cook us up some sausage, mash n beans and chowed down.

Doing naughty little skids out of the dirt layby, we found ourselves getting back on interstate 40 going west again with the aim of getting ourselves somewhere near Santa Fe in New Mexico. We’d picked ourselves a point on the map beforehand and were aiming towards Villanueva state park which was conveniently located somewhere along the way to Santa Fe. Apart from visiting an awesome car museum along the way there was not much to report along the interstate and by now we felt like we’d seen enough of the historic Route 66 so we just ploughed on some 200 miles before turning off to head north on a 2 lane road known only as the 3. Quickly, it began to get very twisty and I was still riding shotgun with Matt so I used the opportunity to grab some photos of the burb winding its way through some mountainous terrain once more and dipping up and down huge hills along the way. It was early evening by this point and we found our way to the park entrance after turning off inside a very small collection of houses. We paid for our camping and drove our way into the campsite, picking a beautiful little spot next to the river and gave ourselves some time to relax, chill out and enjoy the view. Since it was still relatively early, we decided to try and collect some firewood from nearby but with very little success. Now some guy came driving by the campsite and noticed our pathetic collection of wood and told us his brother sold some to campers from his place not far from where we were. Before we knew it, his brother had rocked up with a friend in their pickup with a decent sized load of wood. After some cheeky haggling we found ourselves a little better stocked and began starting the fire. By this point, darkness had started to creep in and I had to crack on and get some food made up, the menu for that night was once again some pasta and Ragu that had become a staple coupled with some turkey in there. Meantime, the fire was going but not getting particularly hot as although we had a lot of wood, we discovered that this stuff wasn’t too great for fires – preferring to generate smoke than heat so we opted for the patented Lee Treherne method of ‘More Fuel!’ and loaded a fair amount on there. That seemed to work and we got some heat out of it at last, feeling quite glad we’d bought what we assumed was far too much wood. That night, Ben had an early one while Matt and I stayed up shooting the breeze and making toast over the open fire before turning in to crash out.

That morning we woke early and it was pretty cold out so we got the fire going again and generating a decent amount of heat by throwing copious amounts of wood at it. The sun was just starting to make a proper appearance over the mountains so we began the switch from wood to solar heating and making plans to go walk a trail or two up in the mountains. We ate breakfast by the campfire then walked to short distance over to the foot of the El Cerro trail and began clambering our way up. Now this trail wasn’t like the ones we had come across before in Zion, the Grand Canyon etc and was only just visible, you had to make your way over rocks that had been stacked up into some form of stairs and then wind your way along through the trees. When we got nearer the top, Ben split off in search of an elusive snake that he had been itching to photograph the whole time we were there. Unfortunately, he had absolutely zero luck once more and joined us at the cliff edge admiring a spectacular view. We took a bunch of photos and wandered round off piste on the top, looking down over the valleys and unsuccessfully seeing if we could spot any snakes before heading back via the second half of the loop to bring us back into the campsite. Then without further ado, it was time to head along to the state capital – Santa Fe. We wound our way back along the 3 until we hit Interstate 25 where Ben and I needed to find ourselves some more delicious petrol. Unfortunately, Matt decided to get alongside us at exactly the wrong moment once again and ploughed straight past us as we turned off to a small petrol station located exactly in the middle of nowhere. We brimmed the tank once more and made it to Santa Fe by ourselves, pulling into a hotel car park to work out where Matt had run off to. He’d randomly made it to the north of the city somehow so we waited for him to join us before heading to a Motel 6 after discovering the hotel was a bit too pricey for us bums. We shacked up in the motel and started working our way through the mountain of laundry we’d accumulated by means of Motel 6’s laundry room. While the last load was on dry we braved the sudden downpour of rain and nipped round the corner to get money out and head to Olive Garden, an Italian restaurant pretty much next to the motel. Our waitress there immediately picked up on our British accents and told us that she will be studying abroad there next year, when we asked her where and she said Wolverhampton Uni we laughed – that’s exactly where Matt had gone to. Small world! We chatted at various points in the night about fun things to do in the UK, not that we could really think of anything to suggest except seeing castles.

The following day had been set aside for exploring Santa Fe so we set off that morning into the historic centre of the town. Piloting the ‘burb round the tight little one way streets looking for a parking garage was certainly interesting but we got there eventually and made our way on foot into the centre. Back when we were in Missouri, we had chatted to one of the camp hosts, Tabitha, at a campsite we stayed. Being from New Mexico she had highly recommended going to see Santa Fe and we were glad we took her advice because we found ourselves in a really cool place. Despite being the state capital, it’s not a very big place – in fact it’s roughly the 4th largest city in New Mexico but it more than makes up for it in appearance. All of the buildings there are in the same earth coloured render and even new ones such as Walmarts and Motel 6s are required to fit in. Overall it creates a really interesting appearance to the place, despite seeming a little forced at times. We wandered round the central plaza at first and then checked out the cathedral before picking random streets to walk up and down, taking in a cross section of everything. All the while I was on the look-out for a Mexican blanket, something I’d wanted to get at some point in the trip and this struck me as the ideal place. After struggling for a while, we ended up going into a ladies’ clothes store which we mistook for a suitable candidate but they were more than happy to point me to a corner market a few blocks away. As soon as we turned up I spotted the exact one I wanted and exchanged some money for it. The guy noticed our English accents though and asked us whereabouts in England we were from, we humoured him with our usual response, fully expecting that he would never have heard of it like everybody else. We were a little taken aback when he asked where in Herefordshire, so I responded myself and my brother were actually from Ludlow and even more surprised when his reply was “ah, I’ve been there – I have some friends there that I stayed with”. It’s a very small world it appears so my authentic Mexican blanket was actually bought from someone who’s actually been to Ludlow, Prestiegne and the surrounding area. By then it was mission complete and we had explored a good chunk of Santa Fe so we headed to a Walmart to buy some supplies and decided to crash out there that night and head into Arizona the next day.

Chris =)