A Cherry Pie From the Middle Of Nowhere

Our latest adventure was a train ride through the Verde River Valley near Cottonwood, Arizona. We drove the hill climbing 3000 feet in altitude from the valley to Chambers, Arizona. During our scoot from the I-17 toward Cottonwood on AZ-269 I related to Peg the last time I was in this part of the country. It was 1987, and I attended The League of American Wheelmen’s national rally in Flagstaff. It was my second week-long bicycle tour.

My goal at the time was to maximize the adventure by using the train to get to the rally. I arrived at the train depot in Joliet, IL at 4:00 p.m. for a 5:00 p.m. departure. The station was empty and dead. The train I awaited began it’s run in Chicago a mere forty miles away, but didn’t arrive until 8:00 p.m. Gee this will be interesting, the train is already three hours behind schedule before I start, and that is the way it ended too.

Once at the rally city I bussed to the Grand Canyon and joined the tour group which rode back to Flagstaff on bicycles. It took us three days to make that trip. At the rally there were daily bike trips offered in each direction. These trips averaged from 30 to 100 miles each. All were scenic and went to destinations of interest. I chose the one which followed scenic Oak Creek Canyon to Sedona (all down hill) and then across the valley to Cottonwood and finally to the Tuzigoot National Monument. A bus awaited there to haul us back up the hill to Flagstaff.

As Peggy and I approached Cottonwood, the amount of traffic picked up considerably, and the number of shopping malls exploded. I couldn’t get over the amount of development that had occurred since my last visit. My first visit to Cottonwood was a joy as we pedaled through 105 degrees through a sleepy little village. The town which chartered in 1960 consisted of a typical Main street with quaint shops along either side of a three block stretch. On this day, Peg and I  passed through several stop lights passing a Home Depot, Walmart, Papa Joe’s and more before we even came close to Historic Cottonwood. I put all my trust in the slave lady who resides in the box on my dash and gives me instructions about where and when to turn. Eventually, we reached a street that looked like the Cottonwood I remembered. A short distance from the old town we passed the entrance to Tuzigoot.

For the umpteenth time the amount of development that occurred in the USA in the past 30-40 years has amazed me. Where did all the people come from to make every town in America grow so large? The time we visited Santa Fé, New Mexico is the first instance when I suffered population growth shock similar to that which I experienced this week in Cottonwood. Each time, I have gone back to these cities expecting to see the same quaint cute little burgs they were when I first saw them. As Thomas Wolfe wrote “you can never go back home again,” and then re-quoted by John Steinbeck in “Travels with Charlie,” I begin to understand what it means.

Peg and I boarded the Verde Valley Railroad car named Tucson at 12:45 and sat watching the amazing topography of the Verde River Canyon pass us by at a snoozy twelve miles per hour. I dreamed about doing this same tour on my bicycle at the same speed. The problem is that the railroad is the only road that travels this section of paradise. Very few people inhabit the scenic volcanic landscape.

The run down the hill was more fun than climbing in the morning. We chased a sunset all the way at 80 miles per hour. I achieved another goal along the way, I the exited the I-17 correctly to find the Rock Springs Pie Company. There, in the sparsely populated Arizona mountains, is a business consisting of a gas station, bed and breakfast, flea market, café, saloon, and the best home-made pies in the world. We bought a cherry pie to bring home.

Burning Gas-Santa Fe

During my lifetime I have traveled a lot. My goal is to visit as many places in the United States and Canada as I can before my travel days end. Lately though, I find myself re-visiting places I have been to before. When I plan a trip, I try to include new cities, and new routes, but there is always someplace that I really enjoyed that is near the new place. My last post in the Burning Gas travel series took us to the White Sands National Monument near  Alamogordo, New Mexico. That put us within one driving day from Santa Fé, New Mexico. I love Santa Fé. My family camped there on a visit some forty years ago. We fell in love with the tiny hamlet of Santa Fé. Established in 1608 it rivals Saint Augustine Florida for the title of the oldest city in North America. What I found when I returned with Peggy was not a three hundred year old village, but a three hundred year old village surrounded by urban sprawl. Immediately my mind played back the lines from John Steinbeck’s novel Travels With Charley,

“Tom Wolfe was right. You can’t go home again because home has ceased to exist except in the mothballs of memory.”  

Oh how true that is. We stayed in a modern hotel, on a six lane median separated street five miles from the center of the old town. Every intersection has another shopping center with Home Depot, Staples, Kohl’s, Appleby’s, and other national chain stores. Laced in between were the more homey Spanish-Mexican-American food places which I so longed to try, but couldn’t because Miss Peggy cannot handle those spicy foods.

On our first  trip, I recall seeing the new and modern State Capital building on the outskirts of town.  This time I had to find it with the GPS. It is surrounded by business and sub-divisions near the center of town.

When we finally did find Old Santa Fé it remained the same, except for the amount of vehicular traffic streaming through the old town. The Veranda of the Governor’s Palace is still the market place for native Americans selling their handcrafted jewelry. The Basilica is still at the end of San Francisco Street. The town square is still a hangout for hippies. Except now the hippies are forty years older and sport long white hair and beards. Artists abound selling small twenty-dollar pieces to the tourists. The shops around the square teem with more elegant artwork and clothing that one can only find in Santa Fé.

We visited the oldest house in America on De Vargas Street off the Old Santa Fé Trail, and across from the Mission San Miguel.  San Miguel (est 1610) is one of the oldest missions in North America, and  is still an active parish. A short stroll from the Mission we entered the Loretto Chapel. This church is modeled after Notre Dame in Paris, however it is much smaller. The architect forgot to build a staircase to the choir loft. The good nuns who served the church prayed to Saint Joseph the builder for a solution. A stranger showed up and built a magnificent spiral staircase to the choir, and then left. No one knows who he was nor from where he came, nor where he got the wood. The church implies it as a miracle, but will not declare it so.

A few blocks away we entered the vestibule of the Basilica Saint Francis Assisi to find a funeral mass in progress, so we decided to call it a day.

We also visited the Georgia O’Keefe museum to learn about the artist behind the print of the huge red poppy hanging on our wall at home. It turns out she invented the concept of painting  flowers close up and big. She spent much of her life on a ranch near the museum painting desert scenes in solitude.

Before we left Santa Fé, we formed a new bond and  now have a second benchmark to which we can never return.

 

 

Following Up With the Movie Version

Last night I followed through on a promise I made to myself about the book “East of Eden.”  I watched the movie to see how accurately Hollywood followed Steinbeck’s work. My grade is a B+. The movie followed the book story quite well. Except for eliminating a central character Lee, adding too much strength to the Sheriff, and changing the ending to shorten the film, the movie told the story well.

The original work is six hundred pages long. I wondered where the movie would start while I was reading. When I finished, I surmised that the script could only cover the last two hundred pages, and that is exactly what happened.

I remember seeing coming attractions for the film which touted James Dean as a powerful new actor. It’s taken  me over fifty years to finally watch the film. James Dean was magnificent in the role of Caleb Trask, a moody young kid who needed answers about his life. His twin brother (not identical) seemed to have it all together, but in the end, the moody kid endures life, and survives the answers he uncovers. His brother, could not deal with the same answers, and loses it He joins the army to fight WWI and dies in action.

I give this film five stars, although a little late. If you haven’t seen it yet, find a copy in the library or rent one and watch. You won’t be sorry.

During the movie I set a new goal, i.e. why not read Dean’s biography, and watch all of his films? The DVD I borrowed from the library came with a second disk, it had Dean’s biography. I enjoyed it as much as I did the film. Dean only made three films before he died, and now I’ve seen two of them. I saw “Rebel without a Cause,” a couple of times. The last film is “Giant.”

The only pleasure missing from this viewing was the company of my grand-daughter Dana. I know we would have had a great time discussing the story and the characters. Oh well.

What Does it Mean?

What does it  mean when you finally do something that has been on your to-do list for fifty years?

Earlier this summer, I spoke with my granddaughter and asked what she was going to do with her summer. She is an avid reader. She announced her intention to read all the books on her school recommended reading list.

“What are some of the books?” I asked

She rattled off several that didn’t register but then struck a chord with “East of Eden.” I am a John Steinbeck fan and have always intended to read that book. I never did, until now.

Why I put it off so long, I cannot answer, but the wait was worth it. Steinbeck has a beautiful style of writing. His characters are so real, I feel I know them personally. He describes the  locales in such a way as to see, smell, and hear the surroundings.

In the early chapters of the book, I kept thinking this sounds like something I have read before. The people and places were so familiar. As the pages rolled by I realized that I had not read this particular story before, but I had read several other Steinbeck stories. All of them take place in the same valley  near Salinas, California. He had to have borrowed some of the same characters for his novel.

East Of Eden is a complicated story that spans three generations of families, and it would take me the same six hundred pages to tell it. I love the period the story is from, i.e. 1875-1925. Life was hard then, but so much purer, yet so much more decadent at the same time. Steinbeck’s depiction of the era is historically accurate. His characters fall into the categories of good and evil. He describes how evilness is a trait a person is born with just as he might be born with a physical defect. Why not a defect in the brain that makes one inherently evil?

Thank you Dana for triggering me to read this book. Now, I am anxious to see the movie. In my mind, I have determined which generation I would have made the movie about. The movie will be higher on my to-do list, and not take fifty years to get to. I wish we could watch it together.

Smokin’ a Joint While Dreaming About Change and Hopium

Wild FireIt had to happen. The liberals are now blaming California wildfires on global warming.  Democratic Representative Linda Sanchez from California has gone on record accusing global warming for the current wildfires raging around Los Angeles. Do all of these people have their head in their ass? Have they ever read a book? Do they really give a shit about the planet earth beyond how it affects their personal welfare? California and wildfires are natural just as California and droughts are natural. If the underbrush is dry, it will burn. Many things can set off a wild fire, global warming might be one of them. It’s my guess that liberals have started more wildfires in California than global warming has or will in the next millennium.

In nineteen thirty-three, John Steinbeck wrote a story called “To A God Unknown.” The location of the story is a beautiful California farm valley, lush and green. As the plot comes to an end, the landscape becomes a barren, parched, dry earth. The valley was experiencing a cycle of drought. Each time the drought came the people had to move out to survive. Was that the result of global warming caused by carbon emissions? If  it was, I doubt it was due to cars and factories in nineteen thirty three. The population of the USA was approximately 120 million people, as compared to the current   315 million.  The number of cars has increased from about ten million in 1933 to  to 245 million in 2009. So what was the cause of wildfires in 1933? Was it methane from cow farts?

 Most likely they were caused by liberal democrats smoking a joint in the wilds as they dreamed about change and hopium.

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