of the Wild World Tour: The United States of America, part 2
John Tyrrell is one half of nouveau breaksmiths Kings of the Wild Frontier. In November 1999 he set out on a world tour and this is his neo-Kerouac on the road diary, a kind of continuation of the Kings' "Trans Am" ep which journeyed across the U.S.A from East to West appropriating local musical styles as it went.
Saturday, October 14th, 2000
I think we left off at New Mexico...
The scenery started to change as we headed south and the temperature heated up again. Love the red mud adobe architecture that is prevelant here and when we arrived in Taos we were lucky to find a really cool motel called the Adobe Wall Motel. Our colourful room came complete with open fireplace and pictures of Cacti on the walls and of course the obligatory clean sheets and cable. This was a well earned respite from the camping. Taos is a small friendly town, full of ageing hippies and art galleries, but with a warm womb-like vibe that makes you immediately relax. Drank Green Chili Beer and ate green chile burritos at the Martinez Hacienda, an old adobe home which was hosting a festival full of crazy characters dressed up in Spanish, Mexican and Indian costumes. Lots of dried chilis hanging from the walls, people making bread in mud ovens and even free chili tasting with a local Chili cook-off competition. Nice way to spend the day... (Jo)
A drive down the Rio Grande took our red road horse to Santa Fe, an adobe Disneyland with burning sun over the town square and a ski field 20 minutes up the road. The Cowgirl Hall Of Fame lured us through its doors for a fine meal of buffalo burgers and cream ale (tastes like lager & cream soda - I still keep catching myself pining for it again) served up by chicks in stetsons...(John)
We managed to clock up quite a few more miles meandering westwards across New Mexico. At Bandalier National Monument we climbed up wooden ladders to explore old cave dwellings, at El Malpais we clambered down into the remains of a solidified lava tube, and at El Morro we squinted at Petroglyphs engraved into gaint sandstone rocks. Chaco Culture Historical site was way out in the desert. There we rambled through the ruins of an ancient Indian city at sunset, watching the wildest colours cross the evening sky. That must have been our busiest sight seeing day to date. Next day, before leaving New Mexico we visited 'Sky City'; the nickname for an ancient Indian village called Acoma, situated in a specatcular and incredible setting high in the sky a top a gaint Mesa (flat topped mountain) in the desert. You can't quite beleive that people still survive up there. There's no running water except what they can collect from rainfall. Unbeleivable. (Jo)
With a couple of hours left in the day we tanked it over into Arizona and popped in to say hi at the Painted Desert & Petrified Forest National Park. Loads of ancient trees turned to richly coloured log-shaped rocks lying all over a huge expanse of desert floor. The sunset turned the sky crazy colours again as we sped to Show Low (great name) to camp up for the night. The morning took us down through the White Mountain Indian Reservation (more mind-blowing scenery) then about 100 miles north of Tucson they started to appear - cactuses from heaven. 40ft tall and littering the hills either side of the highway. Welcome to Saguaro country - sort of a spiritual homecoming for us devotees of cacti (in spite of our seemingly uncanny ability to kill all the ones we had at home). (John)
Tuscon was a nice little town, full of funky young things. Bought a glass Cacti there to add to my collection. A fleeting visit to the local museum introduced us to a wide range of Native American Indian cultures. I never realised there were so many of them. Aside from the better known tribes; the Apache, the Navajo, the Sioux etc there was and still are so many other lesser known tribes (whose names I can't spell). Fascinating stuff. Then we sped further south to Tombstone, not so very far from the border with Mexico. This place was magic. It was just like walking into a film set. The main street was full of original old west style stores and saloons and at the end of it there is a magnificent view of the mountains that's so perfect at first it looks like painted scenery. The townsfolk really get into the spirit of the western theme too. There's cowboys hanging out on street corners and the waitresses in the bars and restuarants dress like saloon serving wenches. Even the old biddies in the Tourist Information Office were dressed like prairie folk and they call the car parks 'auto corrals'. The local thespians treated us to a re-enactment of the famous Gun Fight at O.K. Corral, for this is the original site of that famous show down - as epitomised in the movie 'Tombstone' starring Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday (his finest performance to date). Needless to say we donned our cowboy hats and strutted the street with the rest of the cowboys...(Jo)
After our breakfast at the 'OK Cafe' (nice one) and our day in the bosom of the old west we pegged it back up to Saguaro National Park, Tucson to pay a final sunset homage to the great cacti before speeding through neon-lit Phoenix to camp up in Cottonwood just south of Flagstaff. Jo and I were awoken in the wee small hours by the strangest strangled wailing sounds you've ever heard right up close to the tent. In the morning the park dude said it was the coyotes. That's as close as I want to get. Spotted a skunk by torchlight too. Should've got the sucker to spray me - would've smelled nice after our shower-free camping marathon. In the morn the drive up through the valleys around Sedona was another scenic treat - I reckon Arizona tops the chart of landscape loveliness. Saying that though, the drive all the way up to Monument Valley on the border with Utah got deathly boring - finally those endless stretches of interminable highway were getting the better of me. (John)
At Monument Valley we found the most perfect campsite yet. It had the best view of the red rock valley opposite two giant rocks that look like mittens (those funky fingerless gloves you wore as a kid). We were enjoying the view from our picnic table on a warm and dusty evening and could see the heat storms on the horizon, when all of a sudden the mood of the weather changed. A strong gust of wind blew in heralding the start of an amazing lightning storm, which seemed like it was happening right on top of us. We ran to the tent and hid as the rain lashed down and the lightning dodged us. Having no choice but to retire to bed early we were later awoken by the most almighty thunderclap I've ever heard. I jumped right out of my skin, and my sleeping bag, and clung to John like a limpet for the rest of the night, which John found very amusing. It was pretty scary, but exciting too.
Next day we continued our wild west adventure with a horse back ride into the valley made famous in so many old westerns. John Wayne used to have his very own cabin here. At the local stables we picked up a couple of mustangs, mine was called Radar, John's was called Red Bull. After asking us about our riding skills (which were non existent) our Navajo guide - a Lou Diamond Phillips lookalike - unnervingly informed us that all the mustangs in their stables were captured in the wild. We noticed one of them looked a little frisky and ill tempered. Nervous of getting buckarooed when we weren't wearing any helmets, we were thankful that our horses were fairly well behaved, although John's was stubborn as a mule. Arf arf. I thought mine was going to try and eat my straw cowboy hat when it blew off, but he just spat in it instead...(Jo)
Avery, our guide, finally coaxed my horse into moving forward (all my puny kicks and encouraging noises fell on deaf ears) and he led us off into the valley under a burning sun - first bit of colour I'd got on my arms for weeks. After he'd finished doing his tour guide thing, 'that rock looks like an Indian Chief', 'that one looks like a totem pole' etc, he regaled us with tales of his family, all the houses he's got, and all the films that've been made in the valley. He told us about his appearance in 'Back to the Future III' chasing MJF through the desert hollering wildly (apparently he's the first Indian in hot pursuit - we've yet to verify his superstar status). After filming him and all his buddies got MJF rat-arsed in a bar up at Mexican Hat. Nice work.
It was all going swimmingly til we got back. In true City Slicker style I had a wild allergic reaction to the horse and my eyes went up like balloons. Pathetic. High-tailed it out of there and made it over to the Grand Canyon before sundown. Pulled over, looked at it, took a picture, got the hell out of there. Yeah it's big, but hell, you can't go nuts over everything when you've done nothing but ooh & aah for a full month. (John)
Las Vegas was not the kitsch, neon city of Bondesque casinos and sophisticated lounge bars that I had revered in my imagination. Full of Disney style theme park hotels, a roman theme at Caesar's Palace, a pirate theme at Treasure Island etc etc, it was still pretty good fun though. We took time to chill out by the pool at our motel on the strip, where we could hear the distant screams of tourists being flung into the air by the nearby Stratosphere Casino's sky high joy ride. Then we got plastered on cheap beer in our motel room whilst watching Top Gun. We finally dragged ourselves out into the Neon Nightmare, and had a go on the slot machines at Circus Circus. But the night was cut short when I got food poisoning from the dodgy fare at the StarDust Casino and yacked up opposite the pirate ships at Treasure Island. Surreal...(Jo)
Popped into Caesar's Palace next day (a Roman-esque Harrod's with slots) to let the bikini-ed chick on the wheel of fortune spin me some good luck. Clutching my hard-won 2 dollars we left the zoo behind us after another quick gawp at the enormous themed set pieces down the strip. The whole place exudes the same vibe as a service station on the M1 - it's the people that break the place. Belted through the Nevada desert for a second time, this time with Joshua trees all around. Visions of Bono squinting into the sunset filled my mind. Hit Death Valley just before we lost the sun - good job cos it's bloody hot. Watched the sun disappear from Zabriskie Point (great name - isn't it a film or something?) on the edge of the bleak, sun-scorched valley, then sliced through the super-heated air back to LA for the final curtain on our wild west road trip. Holed up in a dodgy motel in Inglewood in the early hours and dropped the car off next morning back at Lucky rentals. Just under 6,500 miles in 4 weeks flat. The car felt like it was ready to drop to bits. Time to hop on a plane for some R'n'R amongst the bayous of New Orleenz. (John)
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