The Ultimate Road Trip: THE SILVER SNAIL : A solo woman's full-time RV adventure
THE ULTIMATE AMERICAN ROAD TRIP
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Cottonwood, AZ

GETTING TO COTTONWOOD
elevation: 3,300 ft.
With super-strong headwinds, and gusts of up to 60 mph, the drive west from Albuquerque on I-40 wasn't my favorite. It didn't help being on an interstate crowded with semis, either. I hadn't planned on driving the interstates, but I'm on a bit of a timeframe now. Driving through dust storms and across stretches with powerful cross-winds, I mentally rehearsed manually applying my trailer brakes, should the trailer decide to go astray in these conditions. I was listening to the audio version of Orson Scott Cards' Ender' Game on my I-pod, which helped reduce the stress of driving. Love that book. The wind was really bad - I noticed it most when I stopped for gas and the door to the car nearly blew off, and almost took me with it. Seriously. My hands were stiff from gripping the wheel, so I pulled over for a rest at the Arizona state line and took a break from driving for a couple hours, hoping the wind would die down. I did some work while the trailer shook and the wind howled around us. Riley was fidgety. Peyote went to sleep. It was nice when a couple of semis flanked the trailer and sheltered us from the wind.

We ended up going to the Flagstaff Cracker Barrel for the night, after trying and rejecting the Walmart in Winslow. The staff there wasn't particularly friendly or helpful, and the location didn't feel secure...so I continued driving and found the Cracker Barrel. This was my second night in the back of a friendly Cracker Barrel, and so far, I would choose this over a Walmart lot anyday. Both restaurants I've been at were in nice areas, surrounded by hotels, lights, people and security. The convenience of having dinner and breakfast is also pretty handy. They print a map that tells you all the locations, and which ones allow RV parking. Much better than Walmart.

The next morning, it was a short drive to Dead Horse Ranch State Park, and being a Thursday, it was good timing for a decent pick of sites. It was significanly cooler here, as a cold front was passing through - high mid-60s, low of 38 - with rain and dense clouds for the first 3 days. Luckily, I had a few more days to enjoy the area when the skies cleared and the sun came out.

 

ARCOSANTI
elevation: 3,700 ft.
Arcosanti is an interesting work in progress. Designed by renowned architect Paolo Soleri, and based on his "Arcology" concept, it is an educational experiment in building a city where five thousand people could live and work on 25 acres, in an efficient, organic, resourceful "city", while preserving the surrounding acres of natural wilderness. It's already 40 years in the making, and much has been built, but progress is slow. They get a lot of their funding from making and selling the famous Soleri Bells onsite. Visitors can freely browse the gift shop and have a meal at the cafe, or bakery. To see the entire site, though, you need to take a guided tour, and it's worth it. There are about 100 people living and working there currently, with jobs ranging from construction to marketing to baker and bell-maker. They also have guest rooms available for overnight visitors. The idea of reducing sprawl by buildling these kinds of live/work communities is gaining popularity around the country and Soleri's theories and philosophies have no doubt impacted this effort. I hope one day Arcosanti can realize it's vision - I'd like to come back here and see it flourishing.

 

FLAGSTAFF
elevation: 7,000 ft.
Route 89A, also known as the Oak Creek Canyon Drive is superb. The drive north to Flagstaff, through Sedona, was breathtaking, an intimate drive along the edge of the canyon, with displays of monumental red rock structures and tremendous vistas. Just beautiful. The road was a bit torturous at times, and I was glad to not be towing. Near Flagstaff, the road leveled out and there was snow on the ground! The elevation of Flagstaff makes it around 20 degrees cooler, and periodically during the afternoon, the clouds dusted us with an unseasonable snowfall. I found the old part of town, and strolled around with Riley before finding Macy's, a great little coffee shop on the other side of the railroad tracks, where I settled in for a couple hours of work. One notable thing about Flagstaff is that the trains go through the center of town regularly throughout the day and it is NOISY!

 

SEDONA
elevation: 4,300 ft.
Sedona is nestled in "Red Rock Country" and the Coconino National Forest. The town itself has been affected by tourism, and there's not a whole lot of interest there, except maybe for the ice cream and fudge. This area was made famous by the "vortexes" that are found here. It's said that a vortex holds unusual spiritual energy and is a window to a higher realm. Sadly, I did not have the time to find and explore this phenomenon. The landscape IS truly extraordinary, and to really experience it, a 4-wheel drive vehicle comes in handy. Lucky for me, I had my trusty 4-Runner and tackled Schnebly Hill Road. Though not really "off-road", it's one of the more popular routes for the famous Jeep and Hummer Tours, and aside from being extremely rough and bumpy, it was a pretty easy 6-mile drive up to the vista point. I thought I was being clever by timing it for the late afternoon light, but unfortunately, the road was situated so that morning light would have been a better bet. And a terrible thing happened - the shutter on my Nikon D70 died, so I only had my Leica D-Lux3. There doesn't appear to be much hope of reviving my trusty SLR, which means an unexpected expense for a replacement when I get to San Francisco. The good news is that I'll get a better camera.

 

JEROME
elevation: 5,000 ft.
A tiny village precariously situated on the side of Cleopatra hill, Jerome is another old mining town similar to Madrid, NM, though a little bigger and maybe more "polished", with restaurants and hotels. It was another torturous road to get up here and a bit tricky to walk around the sloping narrow streets and walkways. When the copper mine was booming, it was known as the "wickedest town of the west" due to the glut of prostitution, drinking and gambling. Now it is a colorful artist community with spectacular panorama views of the surrounding hills, valleys, and mountains.

 

 

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All images and words © Sharon Pieniak
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