Remembering the road, day 18

Day 18

I awoke this morning to find out we had 20 minutes to clear out of our rooms and drive across the park. It wasn’t because we were evacuated, but because our tickets for the only open cliff dwelling were earlier than expected.

Sam rode with us in the back seat and we hightailed it across the park winding our way through mountainous hills and curves. Sam, who suffers some motion sickness, assured us he was feeling okay just as we approached the parking lot. Then he threw up. It’s quite amazing how much hot chocolate an 8-year-old boy can hurl. We immediately pulled over, stripped him and wiped out the vomit. He felt bad, but he shouldn’t have — he can’t help it — we just felt badly for him. After all, nobody likes to throw up on themselves.

After we cleaned Sam up, we hitched a ride on a tram into a deeper part of the park from where we could explore some of the ancient cave dwellings. Ranger Don was great. He thanked us all for understanding that much of the park had to be closed: “It’s not a matter of if we get fire, but when,” he noted.

The part of the park we were in wasn’t so much in danger. A quick look around explained why; just two years ago fire swept through it and all that remained where the black skeletons of a forest  nothing remaining to burn.

Ranger Don took us into Long House, one of the larger cliff dwellings in the park and explained to us how it is thought that the rooms were used. As always, a loud person was in our group, in this case a large red headed woman whose husband wore a Florida Gator’s tank top, allowing us unprecedented access to his armpit hairs.

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“How did they get through those holes?” she shouted at Ranger Don, pointing to the unusually small rectangular doorways allowing the cliff dwellers access to their rooms. He answered that they were big enough for people to get through, but not so big as today’s doors because the people of that time (600 AD to 1200 AD) didn’t need to push big refrigerators and such through them. The red-headed woman was unconvinced. “My husband can’t get through them! His shoulders are too big! Were they small people?”

Ranger Don explained that the people weren’t small… averaging about 5-feet tall, larger than the Europeans of the time. I wondered if her husband had actually tried to push his way through the ancient ruins and what would happen if he got stuck halfway through. I could see him ruining the ancient brick walls and getting red dust all over his Florida Gators tank top and the woman shouting “See!”

The tour of the ruins was very interesting and Ranger Don had a lot to say. He pointed out the narrow and precarious paths the dwellers would use; showed how the people got water seeping out of the sandstone, explained why timbers that were nearly 1,000 years old were still standing strong, and much more. But, as my nephew Truman reminded him, we were running late and had to catch the shuttle bus. So we scampered back to the top of the mesa and continued touring the area.

While riding the shuttle, my brother and sister-in-law started talking to a couple sitting near them. It turned out they were friends of my brother’s in-laws in Ohio. It’s yet another example of how small the world is, and how wherever you go, there’s someone from Ohio. Even the moon! Remember Buzz Aldrin? I bet if there were aliens on the moon, one of them would have asked Buzz where he was from. Buzz would have said, “Ohio,” and the alien would have said, “Really? Me too! Do you know…”

We left Mesa Verde after lunch and headed south into New Mexico. We would have gone directly east, but massive wildfires in Arizona and Colorado were causing delays and detours, so we decided to just skirt the issue by taking a more southerly route. Along the way, we spotted a giant column of smoke rising from a distant hill. It was a small fire and it was belching out a tremendous amount of smoke. Still, the cloud from the fire simply blended into the gray sky, itself already a gloomy hue thanks to the fires. We never came very close to a blaze, but the evidence from them was omnipresent. I couldn’t help but wonder if there wasn’t a connection between the fires and our route: 666. Coincidence?

Jane rode with us again, although today she used a towel to keep a slim but vital bit of separation between her and the remains of Sam’s regurgitated hot chocolate. Once again, we nearly forgot she was there as she whiled away the hours sitting and sleeping without saying but a few words.

Streaking into New Mexico, we stopped in Albuquerque for dinner and gasoline. I had let the car run on empty far longer than ever before, coming to within 30 miles or so of running out of gas. After refueling, we briefly explored “Old Town” Albuquerque and looked for a bite to eat. Turning to Roadfood, we settled on the Tortilla Factory, an establishment confirmed by a local merchant to be a great place and a good value. Just a shame, really, that it went out of business several years ago. D’oh!

After looking around briefly for another place to eat, and finding only closed or very expensive restaurants, we turned again to Roadfood. It listed to places on Central street, also known as Route 66. Hoping to get our kicks, we headed down Route 66 and saw that the first place listed, a drugstore with a old fashioned counter, was closed. But, luck was with us at last as we came into the University of New Mexico area and the 24-hour “Frontier.” What a great place! Dinner was fast and delicious. It’s just the sort of place I wish I had near me when I was in college.

Then it was back to the road. Already Cyn and I have listened to a Michael Palin (Monty Python, A Fish Called Wanda, etc.) book on CD about his adventures on the Pacific Rim, the first Harry Potter book, and tonight we wrapped up book two of the series. Then it was time for New Mexican radio. We flipped around the dial a bit, not finding much in range. We settled on some bluesy rock music before finally finding an all-the-time Mariachi station. And into the dark night we drove with Mariachi music serenading us down the highway. It’s surprising how many different Mariachi songs there are and how at some point, they all start sounding the same. Kind of like these updates…

Josh and Cyn (mileage: 5,120)

(Note, I’ve changed the mileage from total odometer reading to the trip accumulation. Do I really think anyone cares? Of course not, but I spent at least an hour today thinking about it as mile marker after mile marker after mile marker passed by, so there you have it.)

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