Saturday, 21 June 2008


Wow, what a long road I travelled. I blame being woken at 5.15 in Yuma and by the time I had showered and had breakfast and read the paper it was still only 7.30. So set off east with the sun as usual as my guide.

As I have said before the reason for these trips is to see the countryside and the American clichés. So many people have told me "you must visit New Orleans or Chicago or Seattle etc" I can do those piecemeal any time. You don't get to drive across deserts and see thousands of acres of scrub and dust otherwise.

Last year I managed a lot of the big stuff such as Monument Valley, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. However to my eternal regret I never once saw any evidence of that cliché of clichés, without which no Western is a proper John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Yosemite Sam-style gunfest. (Sam, incidentally, as Bugs Bunny fans recall was "the rootenist tootenist cowpoke west of the Pecos". I am still currently west of the Rio Pecos and have only met one person who could in any way lay claim to that crown. Well, he had a moustache. More on him later.)

I still hadn't seen the "one armed cactus" or as they are known around these here parts "The organ pipe cactus". What luck then that I veered off the I8 at Gila Bend to take a detour down the 85 via Ajo which at one point had been something but as you can see from the picture no longer was. To end up on the Mexican border at the "Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument". As I turned onto the 86 and headed for Tucson through the Tohono O'odham nation Indian reservation there were thousands of the things. Another ambition realised.

Back on the Interstate at Tucson it was - despite all the miles I had done and the lengthy diversion - only about 2pm. The road wasn't particularly crowded nor wide just a two lane dual carriageway. The sun was shining and more ailments and health-related items were being advertised on the radio: "Wanna lose 10, 20, 100 lbs?....Say ‘no’ to fat with..." "We don't have skunks and critters like that, they're further north. Down here we have rattlesnakes, scorpions and pack rats"

As I continued across Arizona it occurred to me that I could probably make it fairly easily down to El Paso on the Texas/Mexico border. It was only a shortish hop by my reckoning and the map I was using. (The one in the back of the motel catalogue) Through New Mexico and into Texas.

Another reason for not being too good with the old map was I wasn't able to read too easily having been parted with my glasses as some point and being too lazy to get the spare pair out of the boot of the car. Bearing in mind that if I did, the frames would be so hot they would brand me like a steer! So I carried on marvelling at the countryside. It is so arid I really can't think why anyone would want to live here unless property was very very cheap and you wanted to disappear from the authorities.

Every so often a Dust Devil would come into view. Not some form of household cleaner but a lazy twister of dirt that would rise and gently turn 30 to 100 feet in the air. After about an hour I saw a sign which read "El Paso 300 miles". Gulp!!

I stopped for gas at Bowie and turned off the interstate not wanting to be caught out as I had been the day before and pulled up in front of the remains of a petrol station. Next door to it was a totally derelict one. I had seen this yesterday. Perhaps due to the huge amount of room the Americans have out in the West. When something gets too old and rickety. Rather than pulling it down and building a new one they just build another next door.

My credit card didn't work in the pump as sometimes happens so I sauntered inside giving it my best West of the Pecos mosey and inside, wreathed in cigarette smoke, was a man who could only be described accurately as ‘An old timer’. His eyes were hooded from years of blinking in the unrelenting sun. His skin was leather, He limped probably due to a riding accident or an old bullet wound. Or then again it may have been that he needed a hip replacement due to arthritis. He spoke slowly and deliberately as he tried to get my credit card to work on his dust and nicotine-stained cash register. When it didn't I said I would pay cash so went and filled up. When I had settled up he volunteered "I have mah house and its set in 150 acres. Just me and mah house and 150 acres." Outside it was scrubland and dry dirt as far as the eye could see. "Kinda hot too" I drawled. Although to his ears and mine it came out as "Gosh jolly hot too I'll bet"

"Y'know we have all this sun, son....some tahms I wake up and have to get mah spade to shovel 2 or 3 feet of sun offa mah porch before ah can get out". A slow grin spread across the canyons of his face and up through his heavily nicotined moustache.

Some people have just got it.

It was 7.30pm by the time I reached El Paso although by the time I had checked in to the nearest motel and rushed into a bar it was 8.40. I had crossed a time zone somewhere.
Sitting at the bar were a couple of young blokes. One of them was talking to the barman, a bloke of a similar age, and asked "You got a gun?"

I waited - breath baited for the response.......

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