Friday, January 16, 2015

Seattle and Arizona Road Trip

To Seattle! A plane dropped me at Minneapolis airport for a nice, restful sleep in the terminal lulled to sleep by incessant fire alarm tests. Then to Seattle. I took the train to the center of the city, then, my phone stoically not working, guessed a direction and walked to E's house with no wrong turns. It was relatively sunny, so I did some laundry, got some food, explored, and waited for E to get home from his work at a giant international jet aeroplane manufacturer that shall remain nameless. 

Seattle! What a town. I had heard so much but seen so little. A city inhabited entirely by healthy looking people clad in North Face polar fleece striding in Asolo hiking boots from arty book store cafes to their local man bun distribution coop. In other words, a slightly overcast paradise.

Regular readers will know already the endless tortures to which I had subjected E on his previous trips to LA ( and and E was determined to return the favour. First up on Saturday was a trip to the Everett factory (where they build 747s, 777s, and 787s) and a series of aircraft museums, at which we managed to see everything. And I mean everything. After spending an hour in pouring rain dissecting the finer detail of riveting patterns on the underside of the 747 prototype, E was forced to admit defeat and we headed for dinner. A quick break and then off to a Duke Ellington jazz concert, which was incredible. 

On Sunday we were not sure what to do because we'd seen ALL THE PLANES. Or so we thought. So we headed downtown, driving over the trapped tunnel borer, to the Museum of Living Computers, ancient PDP-8s and all sorts of funky systems. I was practically having kittens. Computers nowadays are a bit inscrutable, but these machines just about represent the limits of what one person can completely understand. Lunch, hiking, stone skimming, making dinner, hanging out with friends, and next morning on the plane to LA.

Some might think my adventures were at an end. But really they had only just begun.

On Wednesday, a mere 36 hours later, E's parents (B and MA) arrived from Australia and we headed east. Our adventures were so extensive I can necessarily refer to the key ones only in passing, or we'll be here all week.

First up was Palm Springs. We took the tram up Mt San Jacinto, checked out a very windy Joshua Tree National Park, and visited the Annenbergs' rather palatial Sunnylands estate. E and I borrowed/stole the car and zoomed off to Painted Canyon for a few hours of scrambling through slot canyons and geologic speculation. Interspersed were regular trips to fabulous restaurants for sustenance.

Next up was Phoenix. A moderate drive, an interesting sandwich, and we arrived at the Waldorf Astoria Biltmore Resort, a modest establishment sandwiched between only a few golf courses. Ed and I took off for a nearby mountain and reached the top just after sunset. Now dark, we stumbled down the other side and headed out through the icy evening for dinner, followed by a divey but excellent blues bar with live (just) musicians.

Now it was Sunday. We drove out of town to Frank Lloyd Wright's compound Taliesin West, checked out the buildings and construction methods and art and designs and cactuses, followed by a quick jaunt through the Musical Instrument Museum. That evening we hit up the Wright bar at the hotel, followed by a quick look at moons of Jupiter through my binoculars.

The sun came up and it was time to head out. We were briefly waylaid at a local REI, stopped in at the Saguaro Cactus National Park, E learned to solve a Rubiks cube, and thence to the Arizona Sonora desert museum. An amazing zoo infested with all kinds of animals and hummingbirds and beavers and prairie dogs, it was pretty cool. In Tucson we found the guesthouse, did some laundry, exploited the wifi, and passed out.

By this point, E and I were going through major aviation withdrawal. We headed for the PIMA aircraft museum. Hundreds of types of retired planes littered the desert, and in the hangar was numerous awesome planes, including the Bede-5 and (of course) an SR-71. Hundreds wasn't enough, so we took a bus across the road to the boneyard, where thousands of ex military planes awaited need or death in the preserving desert environment. I think the contrast between the numbers of WW2 planes left over (not many) and contemporary warplanes (heaps, despite being made in much fewer numbers) is a beautiful microcosm for how much safer aviation has become, even at the cutting edge. 

We dropped in at the San Xavier mission on the way back, met a friend of a friend for dinner, and walked around the town. Next morning a storm hit while we were on our way to Flagstaff, so we spent a lot of time driving slowly through snow. That evening I evaluated 2014 and set the agenda for 2015. So far, so good. 

The following day was more snow, fog, and clouds, until we arrived at the south rim of the Grand Canyon. E and I took off for the Kaibab trail down to Skeleton Point and back. The canyon was covered in snow right down to the river and yawned beneath a low cloud ceiling. That night the internet didn't work, so we were forced to actually sleep. Which was lucky - we were pretty tired.

Next morning we were up before the dawn. We packed the essentials - water, corn chips, and a bandaid - and, crampons clicking through the snow, we snuck off towards the Bright Angel Trail. As the sun rose we used warning signs for support and took off down the canyon. The air was crisp and the day looked bright. Before long we arrived in Indian garden, checked the time, packed the crampons, and pushed on to the river. This is the part of the walk described as 'suicidal' 'not a day hike' 'regularly causes injuries'. I took a sip of water and tossed my head derisively. Before long we passed the great unconformity and reached the water's edge. 

Well, what a place. Rock, water, sand, sun, snow. We ate the snacks, ripped off thermals, took a photo and skimmed a stone. It was time to head back up. The air was cool and the path was the perfect grade. By 2pm we had reached the rim, managing an average speed of 3 miles an hour. A lot of fun! 

By now the trip was winding to a close. We headed back to Flagstaff, checked out Sedona and Jerome. Sedona has numerous vortexes of silly people looking for energy vortexes, so there was much productive trolling to be done. Jerome, a revitalized mining ghost town, had two streets. The upper one was mostly empty churches, the lower one mostly empty brothels. It also contains the world's largest kaleidoscope shop. That evening I was a bit tired, but thrashed out a 1000 word article on US/China emissions deals before passing out. The following day we drove down the 40 through the desert, across the Colorado, past Barstow, and down the terrifying Cajon pass. I drove at the usual speed, beating the GPS back to Pasadena with time to spare. 

What a trip! What a way to start and finish a year! I am astounded by the Arizona landscape, the company and generosity of E, B, and MA, and the distances between places on this Earth.

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