North America Travel Archives

November 9, 2004

Road Trip: NM, AZ, CA

There is nothing like a road trip in the US! We have been on the road for a week and have another few days to go. We left Santa Fe last Monday with snow flurries in the air. Now I am sitting in Palm Springs in the hot sun, wearing shorts!

We drove from Santa Fe to Sedona in one day (7 hour drive), stopping at the Cracker Barrel in Gallup for lunch. Cracker Barrel is a weird "middle-America" kind of chain restaurant, but it has a good enough vegetable plate and all day breakfast, so we eat there when traveling. It was cold and windy in Gallup. I wished I had packed more winter clothes.

The drive from Santa Fe to Albuquerque is boring and west from Albuquerque is boring for the first hour, but then it gets interesting. Beautiful rock formations, small dusty towns in the distance, no trees, but long vistas. There are big beautiful cliffs surrounding Gallup and further on at the Arizona border there are more big red rocks. The approach to Flagstaff is lovely with the big mountains in the distance and the big pine trees as you get closer. There was snow on the ground in spots around Flagstaff.

From Flagstaff we went south to Sedona. We should have set out an hour earlier because the sun was low in the sky and in our eyes for some of this drive, but the drive was spectacular. From Flagstaff, you get off the interstate and drive down from 7000 feet to 5000 feet through the Oak Creek Canyon - about a one hour drive. There are lots of trees here and red dirt and red rocks. The road goes along the side of a mountain with a steep dropoff. The views of the mountains at the start of this drive from Flagstaf are incredible. Then you get into the canyon and drive along the creek, seeing the trees and that red rock. At the end, you come out of the canyon to a wide open area with the most incredible red rocks and cliffs and mesas - and then you are in Sedona.

We have been to Sedona many times before - we usually spend the night there on the way to California - but this time we looked around and saw it with new eyes. What a lovely spot. It is a small town with a big tourist area, but it is completely surrounded by National Forest, so not much sprawl and plenty of hiking.

We usually stay at The Orchards, the cheap seats of the expensive L'Auberge Hotel, but our last stay there was pretty disgusting (bad checkin arrangement, rooms are getting tacky), so we tried a new place and loved it. The Amara Creekside Resort. Nice big rooms with lovely, good quality furnishings. The main road in Sedona is higher up, above the creek, but Amara (and L'Auberge) are on the valley floor, beside the creek, so you look up at the red rocks and cliffs.

Out for dinner at a Thai restaurant that we have been to before, Thai Spices (caution: this site has music). They have several vegetarian options and the people who run the restaurant have some Macrobiotic training.

The next day we drove from Sedona to Los Angeles. We left at 10am, after a leisurely breakfast and a walk. Big mistake. This meant we arrived on the LA outskirts at 4pm - traffic time.

But, first the drive. It was beautiful. I love spotting the first Saguaro cactus as we drive south. They appear about an hour north of the Phoenix sprawl. Big, beautiful, wide-open views and hillsides covered in Sequaro.

Phoenix is the typical big American city ugly sprawl. They are gridding up the desert and throwing up cheap and big houses as fast as they can.

The drive from Phoenix to LA on I-10 is nice. We have done the drive on I-40 so many times that I can no longer think of Kingman and Needles without wincing. I-10 was a nice change and it works well for us spending the night in delightful Sedona instead of dreadful Needles.

A lovely drive and then two hours on LA freeways in LA traffic. We were driving to Anaheim. Now I understand why some people on the message board have no problem driving in Italy - they are used to the LA freeways at rush hour! Fast driving, driving blind because you are heading into the setting sun, winding roads. But we made it.

We were going to Anaheim for a conference for Steve's business, Tabby Software, admin software for middle and high schools (his piece schedules students to classes and works with a big piece of software that does all the admin functions). We spent three nights at the Marriott across the road from the Hilton where the conference was held. We have to stay at the Marriott instead of the Hilton because at the Marriott you get balconies and the windows open, but the Hilton is a sealed building (one of my phobias - I hate high rise buildings, but when you cannot open a window I am really not happy). The conference went very well, but we spent two days on our feet at our booth talking to people, so were pretty tired from it. I did manage a trip to the South Coast Mall while Steve attended work meetings the first day.

We did not even make it to Disneyland, even though it was only a couple of blocks away.

We listened to the election results driving into LA and were pretty horrified to find John Kerry losing. I thought the world would be different the next day, when it was official, but everything seemed pretty much the same. I have personally decided to go with the George Carlin political view - the crazier, the better - makes it all more interesting to watch. Hopefully that will get me through this.

My personal view is that I am living in an alternate universe - one that split off in 2000 with the stock market crash, the Bush win and 9/11 - the real universe is going along well with a healthy stock market, a Gore presidency and the Green Party as a legit third party, the towers still stand, and I have a house in California (with our stock market gains). Someday soon, I will rejoin that universe. Like on Dallas when that one crazy year was just Bobby dreaming.

On Friday afternoon we packed up our booth and drove to San Diego. We got to use the car pool lane for the Orange County portion, but there were none on I-5 in San Diego, so we got bogged down in rush hour traffic.

We spent the weekend in San Diego, visiting Shannon and Colleen (who came down for the weekend) and going to a SlowTrav GTG. We were staying at a hotel in Ocean Beach, near Shannon.

We checked into the hotel, but were dismayed to find these automatic air fresheners in the room. The room was lovely - it was a one bedroom suite with a kitchen - but the smell of the air freshener chemicals was overpowering. They had one in the bathroom and one in the living room and they pumped out chemicals automatically. We turned them off and opened all the windows. The hotel management brought us fans to move the air. Then we went out for dinner with Shannon, Colleen and Sue, who had driven down from Santa Barbara for the weekend. We had a great dinner at a good Italian restaurant and then went back to the hotel.

We spent 30 minutes in our room and when we could not longer stand it (we could taste the air freshener), I started calling hotels. The Hotel Parisi, where we stayed last time, only had one expensive room left and would give us a good price for one night, but not for all three. So I called the Hotel Del Coronado, a place I have always wanted to stay and they offered us a discount from their cheapest room and gave us a better room. At midnight, we were packed up and checked out and onto the next hotel. I was so tired from the conference and the drive that I thought we could not do this - but I realized that even one night with all those chemicals would be horrible for us. Steve gets very sick from all fragrance chemicals. I get sick too, but not as bad as Steve.

We loved the Hotel Del Coronado; loved it! We had a good sized room in the old part of the hotel, with a balcony and a garden view. I think the bathroom was as big as our London hotel room (from last month). Had a great night's sleep, went for a walk Saturday morning and found a good coffee shop, then went to the SlowTrav picnic!!

We are in Palm Springs now (it is Tuesday) and the sun has gone down. It turns from summer to winter here in one hour when the sun goes down. Time for dinner - I will finish my trip description later.

December 23, 2006

Happy Holidays!

After a busy few months, we are heading off to New York City for the Christmas week. We are staying six nights at Hotel Giraffe, chosen because of the good reviews on Slow Travel. It is close to Union Square, the area where we spent a lot of time in the late 90s when Steve was doing consulting in New York.

In the mid 80s, when we were living in the Berkshires, and the late 80s, when we were on the sheep farm in northern Pennsylvania, we did a lot of trips to New York City (to get away from the insanity of the Macrobiotic Institute where we were studying in the Berkshires and to relieve the boredom of the sheep farm). We stayed at the Gramercy Park Hotel, back when it was rundown and inexpensive. I remember it being about $125 per night. I loved that hotel. Now it has been redone and is a luxury hotel by Ian Schrager. When I checked for this trip, the cheapest room was $500/night. Gramercy Park is the perfect location; a quiet residential square with a fenced park in the center (only residents have a key to the lock), but close to all the action of Union Square.

In the late 90s, when our hotel was paid for by Steve's client, we stayed at the lovely Inn at Irving Place, a couple of blocks south of Gramercy Park. We spent about one week a month there for a year and a half. I was not working, so I went with Steve on these trips. This hotel is perfect. It is two three-storey town houses, making a 13 room hotel. Very luxurious, very homey. Since then we have stayed there a couple of times, but they started using scented candles throughout the hotel and Steve and I both are allergic to fragrances, so another great hotel gets crossed off our list.

Continue reading "Happy Holidays!" »

January 5, 2007

I Thought I Would Never Get Out of West Texas

In our years of travel we have not escaped the inevitable flight delays and missed connections. One time we had to overnight in Cincinnati on the way to New York, because of winter weather, and I vaguely remember one or two overnights in Salt Lake City, but we have never been delayed by more than a day on any flight, until our Christmas 2006 vacation where we were stranded in Dallas because of a winter storm in northern New Mexico.

First mistake. Don't travel during the Christmas/New Year holidays, especially if you are just going for fun, like we were, and don't have any family obligations. (Yeah right, I will probably do this again next winter.)

We thought about canceling our trip after watching the chaos the week before Christmas when Denver airport was closed for 45 hours, stranding 4,700 people at the airport. We were leaving on the day of Christmas Eve and people were still stranded in Denver, but we had our tickets and our flights were flying, so we went.

The Denver Post, “Trapped passengers settle in at airport; some reach hotels”, December 21, 2006 “Blizzard conditions closed Denver International Airport on Wednesday afternoon, hopelessly delaying tens of thousands of holiday travelers. About 5,000 passengers were stranded at the airport Wednesday evening - many pitching camp on the rugs and stone floors of the cavernous terminal.”

Our flights out went fine and we had a great week in New York City. On Saturday December 30, we were flying home. La Guardia airport was a crowded, unorganized, rude mess, but we got on our flight.

Second mistake. I booked online with America Airlines and the connection time on the return, at Dallas, was 45 minutes. This is not enough time. You need an hour between flights when changing in Dallas. This mistake did not matter in the long run.

Our flight to Dallas was late leaving and we were at the back of the plane, so we had to do a “fast walk” between terminals to get our connecting flight, only to find that all flights to Albuquerque were cancelled because of weather. The Dallas airport was already filled with people who had missed connections the day before (Friday) when Dallas airport was closed because of bad weather.

Continue reading "I Thought I Would Never Get Out of West Texas" »

January 13, 2007

New York City at Christmas

I like traveling during the Christmas holidays. We don’t celebrate Christmas and have no family obligations, but for me it is a festive time of year and I like to do something fun. We alternate Christmas in Santa Fe (which is delightful – the Canyon Road Christmas Eve walk, snow, cosy winter evenings in front of the fire) with a Christmas trip. The sensible part of me says “don’t do it”: everyone is traveling, flights and airports are crowded, kids are off school, cities are crowded, weather can be bad and if your flight is cancelled you could be stranded somewhere for days. All of these things happened on this trip, but I am still happy that we did the trip.

We left Santa Fe on the morning of Christmas Eve and arrived at La Guardia around 6pm. To avoid standing in long taxi lines in cold temperatures, we arranged for a car service to meet us at the airport. Christmas Eve was quiet at the airport, there were no lines for taxis and the weather was mild, but it was nice being met by the driver.

In 1997, Steve had a consulting job in New York City which required him to spend one week every month there for over a year. I was not working at the time, so I accompanied him on these trips. He worked and I explored New York. We had also traveled to New York frequently when we lived on the East Coast in the late 80s.

Usually when we go to New York, I am in full freak-out mode for 24 hours: the crowds, the noise, the concrete, the buildings!! This was the first time that it all felt comfortable to me. Perhaps this was because we were staying in the area which we know well from our earlier travel – Union Square. Perhaps I am finally getting used to large cities. Perhaps I was too tired from the events of the past few months to be freaked out.

Continue reading "New York City at Christmas" »

April 22, 2007

In my mind I'm going to Carolina

“Dark and silent late last night,
I think I might have heard the highway calling.
Geese in flight and dogs that bite.
And signs that might be omens say I’m going, going,
going to Carolina in my mind.”
“Carolina in My Mind”, James Taylor, 1968

Okay, I have a thing for North Carolina which is probably a result of playing that first James Taylor album repeatedly when I was a teenager. I hear the words “North Carolina” and I feel the sunshine, smell the green, see the rolling hills.

We flew from Albuquerque to Atlanta on Thursday for a 10 day trip to North Carolina and Virginia. The three and a half hour flight went quickly because we both plugged into my iPod and watched the first three episodes of season two of Weeds.

When I planned our flights I thought the Atlanta airport was north of the city - arrive at 4pm, get a rental car, be on the road by 5pm and not dealing with rush hour. However, the airport is south of the city, so we hit rush hour. We took a highway that loops around Atlanta, so we did not have to drive through the center of town, but the traffic was thick. It was a four hour drive to Asheville. They had a big storm this week and we got the tail end of it on the drive.

We were booked at the Inn at Biltmore, on the Biltmore Estate on the south side of town. We got to Asheville at 9pm and went straight to a Chinese restaurant that I had found online in listings for vegetarian friendly restaurants. Picked up some takeout food and drove onto the estate (China Palace South on Hendersonville Road – good quality food, good vegetarian options). We do not have good Chinese restaurants in Santa Fe, so when we are somewhere else we head straight for the Chinese restaurants.

Walking along a strip mall, while waiting for our food to be made, I thought that maybe what I like about traveling is the emotional upheaval. The excitement – isn’t this great?; look at the moon rising; look at those mountains. The unknown – will we find restaurants we like?; will the hotel be nice?; will I have fun here? The fear – why am I taking a trip and leaving my house that I love where I have all my support systems and my cat?

The Biltmore Estate is huge; 8,000 acres I think (but I heard other numbers). We drove in the pitch black on narrow winding roads to the hotel. It is a big hotel with rooms that are nice but not worth the price (over $300/night). What is worth the price is the service (for example, the valet gets you bottles of water for the car when you set out for the day!) and being on the Biltmore Estate. My only complaint is that you hear every door on your floor opening and closing, but even I forgave that because of the location. (Don’t book rooms 273 or 275 – they are right across from the administrative offices and that door opens and closes nonstop.)

On Friday morning we had breakfast at the hotel, then took their shuttle bus to the Biltmore House. You get a good tour of the estate on the shuttle bus and it seems like the house is 10 miles from the hotel, but on Saturday we walked and it is only a 1 ½ hour walk (as the crow walks). Friday was sunny but a bit cool. The big storm that hit the area earlier in the week had finally moved off.

Detail from the Biltmore House
Detail from the Biltmore House

Continue reading "In my mind I'm going to Carolina" »

April 27, 2007

Charlottesville and Chapel Hill

Fast Travel: Asheville, 4 nights; Charlottesville, 3 nights; Chapel Hill, 2 nights.

This is the last night of the trip; we fly home tomorrow. I am tired of living out of a suitcase and want to see my cat Buddy, but it has been a great trip. We wanted to explore this area with the thought of maybe living here some day and we wanted a break from the Santa Fe spring. Both goals accomplished!

Conclusions: All three of these towns would be good for us. If I were picking from my heart, I would choose Charlottesville. Beautiful countryside – gentle rolling hills, lots of trees. Good hiking nearby, nice walks in town. Small town. Two hours from Washington-Dulles airport with a short flight to Europe!!

If I were picking from my head (logic), I would choose Asheville. A good “alternative” population, vegetarian restaurants, natural foods stores, nice downtown, lovely historic houses, weather is probably cooler in summer because it is in the hills. Lots of hiking nearby.

And if I were picking a place where there is lots to do, I would choose Chapel Hill. We went out tonight to get takeout Indian food and drove around the University area. People are out on the streets and it felt like a hot summer evening in July.

We are enjoying the heat (daytime temps in the 70s) and the warm evenings. In Santa Fe it is almost always cold at night (which I like too). We had a few rain showers today and half of the days it was overcast, but the other days were bright and warm. I don’t know how I would be here in the summer with the humidity, but I tell myself I must be okay with humidity because I grew up in Toronto and we lived in Pennsylvania for a summer 20 years ago. I like the geography here, all the trees, the very friendly people, these exciting college towns.

But all this research is for the future. We are still working on the “year in England” maybe starting this fall. And we need to revisit Boulder because it is on the shortlist too. We might do that next month.

Monticello near Charlottesville
Monticello near Charlottesville, home of Thomas Jefferson

Continue reading "Charlottesville and Chapel Hill" »

May 25, 2007

From the People's Republic of Boulder

It has not been 24 hours yet, so who knows - but so far we are in love! What a town! Twenty years ago we crossed Boulder off our "places to live" list for reasons that seem stupid today. Too close to a large city, too harsh of a winter.

Today we walked along the Boulder River, walked down the Pearl Street Pedestrian area, walked around the Mapleton neighborhood, then did a short hike to the Red Rocks. The town ends right at the hills and there are walking/hiking trails everywhere!

The town population is larger than Santa Fe - 100,000 (Santa Fe is 70,000), but almost half that is University of Colorado students and staff. Boulder is part of a 2.8 million population area, but the green belt that surrounds the town to the east and the mountains to the west make it seem separate.

Downtown is lively and fun. There is the most amazing non-chain bookstore on Pearl Street. Last night we had a great dinner at Sunshine, a very good vegetarian restaurant.

But as I said, it has not been 24 hours yet. I would upload a photo, but I forgot to bring a cable.

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