Everything is bigger in Texas

…. except the welcome signs.

As I was driving along the I-40 highway (major interstate freeway) from New Mexico to Texas, I started getting excited about what the Welcome to Texas sign would say. New Mexico’s Land of Enchantment signs were cool, as were the Utah – Life Elevated ones.

I expected big and brashy. Maybe a Stetson shaped sign like the Arby’s chain restaurant has. Maybe a big cow cut-out like those that adorn the hills of Spain. Or a giant oil well with neon letters spelling out the greeting.

But no. It was a no-frills, ordinary looking green highway sign that didn’t match up to the Texan reputation.

I-40 Welcome to Texas sign
I-40 Welcome to Texas sign - from http://www.teresco.org

Comida por la alma

That is, food for the soul. Which is what I say when I go gallery trawling.

Apparently Santa Fe is the second or third art destination in the US, and Canyon Road certainly helps it earn this reputation. Around 300 art galleries stand shoulder to adobe shoulder along the narrow street. Sculptures abound in gardens and front courtyards. Shingles discreetly identify some of the galleries that open up to a maze of rooms filled with colourful and exciting artworks.

I felt my soul fill up as I browsed the art and pondered my favourites in this historic district that keeps such a local charm and flavour.

I imagined what it would be like to have the disposable income to make considered but personal purchases and certainly found a few that I would have bought if I had a $10,000 art budget.

I also marvelled over the creative talent and wished I could bring to tangible life the ideas that form in my imagination.

Time seemed to stand still as we walked along the street, soaking up the creative atmosphere. Or maybe that was the chocolate vortex we were in after consuming some meso american hot chocolate at Kakawa prior to setting out on Canyon Road.

The chore hostel

I’d never encountered a hostel where, in addition to paying for your bed, you had to do some other cleaning task to qualify to stay.

Sure I’ve come across plenty of places where you work in exchange for a bed, but not where the sole cleanliness of your room relies on the effort of the person who stayed there before you.

For me, this wasn’t such a big deal, I was happy to clean up after myself. Unlike at home, while on the road I’m quite pedantic about cleaning up after myself and drying my dishes rather than letting them drain in the communal kitchens. However, when the initial state of the place is pretty tatty and the chores are said to be “to engender community” I kind of get a bit affronted.

You wouldn’t think it is a hostel with all the broken down old cars and ancient caravans waiting to be restored in the carpark. As I marketer, I know that’s not how you present your business. The verandahs in front of the rooms all had planks of wood and other bits and pieces caked in dirt cluttering them up and the kitchen looked like an explosion had gone off.

In the kitchen’s defense, that was after a veritable truckload of donated food past their sell by dates had entered the hostel. Something they get for their non-profit status. So while it was a bit scungy yet oozing potential, the free food is a bonus to backpackers always on the lookout for a cheap feed.

Curled up in a bookstore

I’ve just popped into Denver to go to the Tattered Cover which has been talked about endlessly on NPR.

It is fabulous and all wooden inside. Floors, beams, ceilings, bookshelves, furniture. It’s all wooden.

It has a coffee shop, is cosy and feels like a place of great knowledge. It’s kind of like a library, but better because the hush isn’t from fear of librarian wrath but from the peace of those inside. Sipping a coffee, hiding in a cosy nook and thumbing the pages of a good book are part of the charm of this place.

It is well-lit with soft, vintage ceiling lights – no harsh fluoro lights. The books are given plenty of space to hold their own the shelf, falling over slightly in a “pick me up” repose that makes you curious beyond the cover. Staff picks and displays abound, making ever corner you turn a new discovery.

I imagine this would be a great place to escape on a cold Denver day.

I’m excited because I now have 18 hours of Isabel Allende’s Island Beneath the Sea to listen to on my roadtrip and fill in the miles of highway to my next destination.

Don’t go chasing waterfalls

Because if they are cascades, they’ll only disappoint.

I am a fan of waterfalls. It took me a little while in life to realise this, I think it wasn’t until stopping to see every possible waterfall on a trip to New Zealand’s North Island that I discovered their hold over me and knew I would always be a waterfall tourist.

Of the world’s major waterfalls, I’ve been to Iguazu Falls on the Argentinian/Brazilian border twice and loved it both times for the diversity of spills and the ability to get up close and wet from them. On this trip I will also be getting to Niagara Falls, which hasn’t ever really appealed to me in the same way I want to go to Venezuela to see Angel Falls, but I’m sure it will be fun none-the-less.

At Rocky Mountain National Park I decided to do a couple of waterfall walks on the west side. Given that the snow is melting, they would surely be super impressive as they thundered along their course.

The first was Cascade Falls, which was thundering as I expected, but it was immersed in the trees and you couldn’t get a good, unobstructed view of them. After a long, but interesting enough hike, I was a bit disappointed. Next up was a short walk to Adams Falls, which carve their way through the rock like a theme-park waterslide. The torrent reminded me a little of Huka Falls in New Zealand, but smaller and a little less powerful.

So once again, I feel like a jaded traveller, where I fail to be awed by my amazing surroundings. I really hope there’s a cure for this. Does anyone know of one?

This hostel feels like home

I’m staying at the most beautiful hostel in Durango, Colorado. It is so chilled and homely that I don’t want to leave it to see anything.

It is more like a b & b that’s how nice it is. Super clean, quality utensils in the kitchen, a cosy lounge, a deck looking out onto the bush, shelves for those sleeping on the top bunk, fluffy towels, soft sheets and an even softer blanket. A five out of five on my TripAdvisor review.

The kitchen inspired me to bake brownies, from a packet, but still my first bit of baking since I left LA. But I don’t want to think about baking for too long though as I miss my KitchenAid beaters and my pav plate from Goodwill. I’d love to just whip up a pavlova for the hell of it, but it is a finicky business that requires all the right equipment, and most hostels don’t have it. Needless to say when I’m camping there definitely aren’t the facilities for pav making.

I’m just a girl

Today’s blonde moment occurred early in the day.

While checking under Esmeralda’s bonnet at her coolant levels, I noticed another reservoir looking rather empty. I tried to unscrew the lid to get a better look, but it wouldn’t budge. I tried shining the flashlight app on my phone at it to better detect the levels. I tried wiggling it to hear a liquid slosh. My diagnosis was that it was empty.

Consulting the Volvo handbook I learned that this was the brake fluid reservoir, and I started to feel slightly anxious and sick in the stomach that Esmeralda and I were going to be stranded in the mountainous Colorado. I didn’t actually think anything more negative like “oh my gosh, Esmeralda’s brakes are going to fail and we’re going to go over a railing and into a deep valley, never to be seen again” because I’m not a pessimist.

So I drove to JiffyLube to get them to check it only to be told “we don’t do brakes”. I asked for a suggestion of where I should go and they suggested three tyre places. So I drove to Big O and asked if they could check it only to be told “we don’t do engine fluids”. Thankfully, my femaleness and accent was enough for them to say they would at least check to see if I did need brake fluid.

I pulled into the bay and the mechanic came over, unscrewed the cap and lo and behold, there was a full reservoir of a pinkish fluid. I felt like such a ditz. He didn’t even need to put any elbow grease in to get the cap to come off, the only logical explanation was that I must have loosened it for him.

Esmeralda’s brake fluid levels are just fine, it’s just my pride that’s a little depleted.

Blown away

Meteor CraterBattling gale force winds while sightseeing is fun when you don’t take it seriously.

While making a stop at Meteor Crater, apparently the best preserved meteor impact crater in the world, I had to hold on tight to stop from being swept off my feet and into the giant 167m deep hole.

The wind was so strong it picked up my handbag and made it flap like a flag on a flagpole, my shirt and those of everyone around me were flipped up to reveal our bellies and my sunglasses were pushed off my nose sideways. It was strong!

While they harp on about how the Meteor Crater is one of the most fascinating natural wonders, I didn’t think it was worth the $15 admission. $10 perhaps. Unfortunately you can’t walk around the rim, which would be super fun if it wasn’t windy, so you have to make do with the three viewing platforms.

So whilst I was literally blown away, I wasn’t figuratively blown away. I guess I’ll save that up for something else.

Seeking something spiritual

Atop Bell Rock
Atop Bell Rock

Sedona is a kind of Mecca for New Agey types.

In the mid 80’s it was discovered that this red rock area deemed sacred by Native Americans, had a number of vortexes, where energy flow can be detected. I hadn’t actually heard about the vortexes until I was in Flagstaff, so I decided I’d like to find out for myself.

The Bell Rock trail is quite easy, a wide, flat, maintained path however under the midday sun I looked with an incredulous eye at the people setting off with half a bottle of water between two and no hats. It’s not an uncommon sight to see under-prepared people hiking trails.

Climbing to the Bell Rock vortex is not so easy. At first I didn’t think I would make it as it looked too taxing. After refuelling my energy tank I started the climb up, ascending a smooth, steep rock on all fours, negotiating a path across the rockface. I came across a woman coming down and asked if she’d felt the vortex and she described it as a spiralling tingle in her fingertips. I was excited and I wanted my fingertips to buzz too. This gave me the last bit of motivation I needed to get to the top.

I found a little place to rest towards the top, breathed in deeply and waited.

I waited while I listened to two guys talking about the climb.

I waited while watching a woman get her crystals  out and meditate.

I waited while absorbing the landscape around me.

I waited without reward.

I didn’t feel the vortex. Not even when I pressed my fingertips into the rock and closed my eyes. It was disappointing.

I continued to wonder about this as I climbed down, and as I was walking the trail back to the car, decided that I would go to see a psychic to have my tarot read in order to feel some kind of spiritual connection.

There are lots of psychics and the like in Sedona. I chose Madam Bonnie for the cute little location and walked in to have my palms and tarot read. I had never had my palms read before, so it was interesting to see what they had to say about me. There were some really accurate descriptions of things that have happened in the past and some curious predictions for the future.

Madam Bonnie could tell that I was restless as, apparently, my chakra was all over the place. She said she could do some chakra healing, and as I was in a “let’s just try things out” frame of mind, I took her up on this.

When you pay for a chakra healing, you are not paying for the time they spend doing this, rather for the process. It involved three stones being placed on or under my body and then having my body touched with a stone 10 times. Each time the stone would knock on a gong three times, kind of like cracking an egg, then a vibration would sound and Madam Bonnie would press the stone in each of the chakra places on my body.

I felt calmer and more relaxed when I got up, but as chakra healing isn’t instantaneous, I have to call Madam Bonnie in a week to talk to her about how I’m feeling. I’m curious to see whether there is any difference.

So whilst I didn’t get the free spiritual connection at the vortex, I did get a spiritual experience from Sedona.