WINDING DOWN: New Mexico, Arizona and HOME
I'd originally planned to return by the northern parts of these states, which would no doubt have been more interesting, but a few days longer. As it was, there was a definite diminishing of interest (not to mention energy) as I hit their southern sections.
The southern part of New Mexico is mainly known for its ghost towns, which should tell you something. Las Cruces is a pleasant enough town, though with a surprising number of homeless people. Las Mesillas, the 'historical' town next to it, has some bone fide bits of history: the oldest building in New Mexico, the courthouse where Billy the Kid was condemned to hang (which is now, I kid you not, a Billy the Kid gift shop.) But the whole town center is so gussied up, I didn't even take any pictures. It would have looked like Disneyland.
Otherwise, the small towns beyond it often sell fireworks and Indian souvenirs, or have a ghost town or other bit of history which is completely invisible when you drive into what is invariably a dreary, discouraged town center. I finally located one town's much-touted "Shakespeare Ghost Town" only to discover it was on private property (itself unappetizing, and on a nasty dirt road) and only open at certain times. Nice bit of nature outside the town, though.
The one thing I would return for is the Gila Cliff Dwellings, which I assumed were closed by the time I got to that town.
Unlike the glorious red desert up north, the desert in southern Arizona is very much like the Mojave, with a few more pronged cactus.
Tucson has a slightly sinister (at night) downtown that nonetheless has glimpses of Vermont Ave type hip and a more lively student area (on Fourth Avenue) where there were lots of restaurants but few customers and a bunch of kids in the street who looked like they wanted to be hippies but didn't know what they were supposed to do. I did hear some very nice solo music from a guy in a cafe (who'd just moved from L.A.) and the area over near Campbell and River Road actually has some more upscale shops and restaurants, with a definite sense of Southwestern Chic.
There's one spectacular rock formation beyond Tucson, which reminded me how powerful such sights are, taking me back to the start of my trip.
Phoenix has some very nice skyscrapers. - Their state house is actually intriquing. It's modestly sized and, instead of the common golden dome, has what appears to be a COPPER dome. Unfortunately, the area around it (which is probably relaxing normally) was all being renovated. I asked a woman coming out of it where to have Southwestern Cuisine and she recommended a place that sounded suspiciously slick. I asked another young guy waiting for a bus and he said: "You mean Mexican?" "No, Southwestern." "Southwestern's just Mexican with piquante sauce. You pay extra for the piquante." He recommended I check out Tempe, which he described as having far more shops and restaurants. Struggled up there and found two very unexciting blocks and mostly chain restaurants.
So much for Phoenix. I stopped a ways beyond it for gas, and ended up having a 'family style' lunch next door, complete with weather-beaten waittress and dusty jukebox with recent country and lots of OLD big band and Fats Domino. And an adobe ruin across the way.
Otherwise, desert, desert, desert.
Crossing into California, I was astounded to see miles of green. Irrigated, no doubt (there's still lots of desert to go.) But the contrast is startling. Blythe, the town at that point, has wall-to-wall motels. For what, I couldn't imagine. There was nothing to see, so far as I can tell.
"Visit exotic Blythe and see its world-famous motels"? But, as it turns out, this is a favorite getaway for people off to see the desert.
After that, a few more miles of raw desert and then it was pretty much like driving home from Palm Springs. I suddenly realized at some point that I was in FOUR LANES of traffic. I'd grown so used to two. At some point, too, I stopped feeling like I was driving cross-country and just felt immured once again in L.A. traffic. With other cities, once I saw the 40 mile mark, I pretty much felt I was there. The last forty miles to L.A. took FOREVER.
With really no great ceremony, I drove up the 5, over to the 134, into the 101 and off at Lankershim, up to North Hollywood.
I was home.
LAST UPDATED: March 2003