Musings / Travel


Lesson of the Day: a u-turn keeps you moving forward (not backwards)

As I’m dashing out of Tucson, I intend on swinging by the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum before driving down to Bisbee, where I’ll follow the border over to Texas along my pre-planned route.

By the time I’m finished with the museum (which is a zoo crossed with an arboretum: GO HERE when you can – you’ll love it!) I’m exhausted and spend some time checking my missed calls and messages. Michelle writes to remind me that Austin’s music festival is HUGE and if I can swing it, I should reconsider making it. Several friends have left messages to check on my situation with Kyle. Kyle has questioned if I’m alive and still in town.

I decide that I don’t want to speak for the remainder of the day. (Aside: more to explore on silence as communication vs isolation.) And I decide to turn around and head back the way I came – all the way to Phoenix and beyond. I don’t know how far I’ll make it and even though I’ve done this drive before, it’s almost comforting to travel through the same landscape. Now I can use all my energy to digest and process the past 6 months and last night.

A KOA near Black Canyon appeals to me as a cheap alternative, after having to fork over nearly $200 for an “emergency” hotel stay last night. $23 bucks and a few laps around the lot later, I’m re-arranging the insides of my car to make a bed in the passenger seat. Why not lay out under the milky-way? The black sky with sprinkled Christmas lights comforts me: I can be alone in silence and remain a part of a large universe. But the creepy-crawlies from the desert museum have me scared of sleeping outside and the wind has an unnerving way of rustling the trash can so I can’t tell what’s running around and about to attack. I finally nestle in my new sleeping bag with my Maglite. This turning around feels right.

After a rejuvenating morning work out, I give myself a tour of this tiny town. My plan is to find a non-interstate route up to Flagstaff – and maybe get close to the Grand Canyon. A friendly woman at the mart tells me she doesn’t think there are any other ways to get there, except maybe an old road that’s likely impassable by car.

Hm… I find this back road (Old Black Canyon Highway) and after a short few miles I make my first u-turn after a sign reading: Tell ADOT No to Freeway in Canyon. And the itch scatters in – when I realize that I have to go backwards and lose ground, lose time. Resigned, I head for I-17 and take the next exit with a brown (recreational) sign for Bumblebee and Wild Horse Canyon. The pavement ends immediately and I’m excited to be driving on the gravel roads of my youth. OK, these are a bit more rugged and more rock hard dirt than gravel, but the Scion has great shocks.

Time disappears with the pavement and I’m suddenly free to go as slow or pull over whenever I want. And I do. I take good chunks of time to sun bath on the roof of the scion (which now acts like a toaster in addition to looking like one). In Bumblebee I see another sign pleading for no pavement and I think of Edward Abbey. These Arizonians are serious about keeping their country country … and the thought of an explosion explodes a new energy.

The next time I realize I have to make a u-turn, I’m sliding through a long patch of mud into an old mining town in Prescott National Forest: Crown King. If I live up here I’ll want a helicopter. Surprisingly, I get cell reception, so break my day of silence and call friends back so they don’t dispatch a search party and know my new travel direction and plans. My proud Scion, painted in mud, almost fits in with the trucks and ATVs and I know she’s ready to give the road another shot.

I have no reservations having to turn around. With all sense of time gone, and no set plans on where I’ll make it to, I look forward to gaining a new perspective on the scenery and paths I’ve traversed. As I descend the mountain, I relax a little since the road holds less surprises, and my mind takes its own u-turns in concepts, memories and processes. Like a simulated flying game (or GPS “fly over”), I see myself wandering around a slough of emotions in slow motion. At the end of 26 miles back down I have a new option: turn right and hit I-17 or turn left onto an unknown road where town names are listed with no mileage.

After 5 hours of driving with frequent stops to snap photos, sun bathe and walk around, I had gone the same distance North (Sedona direction) that I could have gone in 30 minutes on the interstate. I check my fuel gauge and turn left: I’m not ready to have a destination yet. Eventually I hit pavement at Spring Valley and end up taking 89 north to Prescott and 89A with Sedona as my goal.

An old mountain town grabs my attention. It reminds me of a town out east (on a drive from Boston to the cape) that I can’t recall and I search out a place to park. It’s tricky as the roads are small and zig zag down the mountain. Following a sign to parking I end up in an old ghost town (where they have a gift shop) and am offered a free place to stay (by Rai with a sweet smile that tells me she genuinely loves the earth and cares for me even though she’s never met me before).

So now I continue on 89A to Sedona Pine Resort, with a promise to give 90 minutes of my time to hear a sales pitch on time shares. Tonight I don’t mind: time feels different now and I’m basking in the beauty of u-turns. And I’m even more excited to sit in an outdoor spa, letting the hot pulsating water massage the soreness of a forgotten yesterday away.

1 Comment

  • Erin
    February 12, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    Wear sunblock and carry a stick for desert hikes, and you’ll be fine, baby girl! Good to talk to last night, and keep it up!


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