A Tweet Tour of South West USA: 4 (Palm Springs to Phoenix/Scottsdale)
The deal was this: I’d drive in the cities, and Chris would take her share on the open highways. So once out of Palm Springs we swopped drivers, looking about us with the inevitable well-considered Wow.
She faced a drive of increasingly vertical scenery. The distant Eagle Mountains soon slid closer and began wrapping themselves around us. Our Mustang responded by wrapping itself around the mountains. He climbed through their gaps, turning by s-bends and v-bends till we arrived at some alarming roadside advice.
“For next ten miles,” read the sign, “turn off air conditioning.”
Eek! One of Mustang’s more vital functions was to blow breezes at us, especially when his temperature gauge said it was 100ºF outside. Later he changed his mind to 105º. Then 110º. All of which was fine so long as the breezes kept coming. But now he had to avoid overheating his engine.
This meant we had to overheat ourselves, and we rolled into Chiriaco Summit in considerable need of iced tea. However, Mustang was thirsty too and he’d done the hard work, so we thought we’d better treat him first.
Thus we embarked on another adventure – filling the car with gasoline. We’d never done it U.S. style before, and U.S. style is different. You pay at the shop before using the pump – an interesting reversal of custom and the author of a quandary. How much should we put in? Twenty dollars worth and leave the tank part empty? Or thirty and spill the excess?
It’s these little things that make a trip, these fiddly questions of this and that.
We gambled on twenty five dollars and Mustang was so grateful he insisted we call him Stang from then on. We entered the cafe congratulating ourselves on being seasoned travellers. We knew how to fill up with gas. We knew how to avoid saying petrol. We knew how to turn off the road and find somewhere serving iced tea with a squeeze of lemon.
And we knew what Rest Rooms were. At first we’d assumed they were full of Chaise Longues for the weary traveller, but now we realised the American for Pee is Rest. So we nipped off for a quick Rest, then compounded the joy by calling in at Tourist Info next door.
It was here that we met another of our delightful characters, Christopher the Information. Military of bearing and professorial of demeanour, he plied us with tourist leaflets and quirky humour.
“How are you finding the people?” he enquired at one point.
We could give no other answer than happy. That was the word. Everyone wanted us to have a nice day, expressing the wish with such beaming expansion that we could not help but comply. Maybe it was the sun, I suggested, maybe the open spaces, but everyone seemed – well – sunny – indeed open.
And keen, of course, that we should have a nice day.
Then it was time to put Four Buttocks back in charge of our fate. “In two hundred yards, turn left!.. Drive onto ramp!.. Join the highway!” And thus we returned to the desert floor. Not just any desert, though. This was the Sonora Desert, resonant from such cultural landmarks as Close Encounters of the Third Kind or Castaneda’s tales of Don Juan, the alleged Yaqui sorcerer. It was time to know where we were. Time to inhale the breath of the place. Time to settle to the serious business of jotting down tweets.
- Driving by juts of mountains as if abandoned half formed – a giant play-dough park of huge and absent children
The desert floor was surrounded by such mountains on both sides, multiple of colour – bluish purple, sandy green, semi black – and continually intriguing of shape.
- Hill range like a prone and fossilised crocodile: cobbled snout rising to a crest of head, then scoop of neck merging into jagged tail
For Chris the main agenda was greeting the cactuses – the tall, hands-up types, known as Saguaros - preferably up close. With camera in hand so we could later believe it had happened. But how? There were wire fences all the way along. Could we pull in at the roadside and climb over? In England we’d have done that without hesitation, but in America we preferred to look about us, see what other people were doing. And no one was pulling in on verges. No one was climbing wire fences.
A key consideration, we felt, was traffic cops. We’d heard they were keen to pull people over for speeding violations, and the results were eminently visible – no one speeding, everyone being good. Would the cops be equally keen on verge and fence violations? Well, if results were anything to go by, it seemed they might – no one climbing, everyone just driving. For the moment, therefore, we merely clicked the cactuses with words.
- Saguaros with stunted arms like traffic policemen immobilised in mid halt – forbidding trespass beyond the wire
We imagined we’d come to a good pull-in soon. Then we could climb out, cuddle a cactus and spend the rest of the journey pulling out quills. But the fences stretched relentlessly on, and we wondered if anyone ever got past them.
- Cactuses with their hands up like endless gangs of tall green intruders – held under hot and permanent arrest
Meanwhile the desert heat caused eddies of dust to gather and whirl on the flat terrain. What was their origin, we wondered?
- Small whirls of dust rising at odd points of desert floor – like the ghosts of detained cactuses too hot to survive
Eventually we arrived at a Rest Area, resolving to go in search of cactuses willing to pose, although Stang warned us it wouldn’t be comfortable.
“What?” we replied, reading his temperature gauge. “You don’t mean it’s 112º do you?”
Stang had a re-think and came up with 114º.
- Climb from the car and the heat bites your face off. Scrapes away the skin. Brain stares stupefied out of eyes braised to immobility
- 114ºF – hairdryer heat on face and limbs, eyes cooking behind shades, mind spreading on a haze of stupefaction
There were no suitable cactuses in the vicinity, of course, nor indeed any gaps in the fences should they happen to materialise. So we climbed back in the car – “You were right, Stang” – and tried to develop an interest in other matters. Like did anyone actually live out here?
- You hardly see towns as you drive – one storey buildings crouching low, hammered flat by the sun – with only mountains venturing to rise
When we finally approached Phoenix, late in the day and weary of brain, we heard from Four Buttocks again. She’d had nothing to say during the long straight desert drive, but now she resumed her imperatives. “Drive point nine miles and turn left!”
Maybe it was the confusion of city driving but I had the impression she might be nursing a grievance from the previous day.
“Drive point six miles and turn right!”
I tried to obey her amongst the grid pattern zig-zags and spaghetti intersections, but the instructions were coming fiercely fast.
“Turn right! Turn left! Turn right! Turn right!”
And then came her masterpiece: “Keep left!”
“Um, excuse me, Four Buttocks,” I asked hesitantly, “does that mean we turn left or keep left?”
But there was something about her tone we didn’t quite trust. We turned left instead.
And we were right.
The bitch had been trying to stitch us up.
May I invite you to make certain purchases? (I may? Why, thank you...)
(a) The Salamander Stone (by my most excellent and trusty pal, Mrs Me) from one of these outlets:
Direct from the publisher, Burst Books: click here
Amazon UK: click here
(b) The Two Worlds of Wellesley Tudor Pole (by Mrs Me’s most excellent and trusty pal, Me):
Amazon UK: click here
Amazon.com (US): click here
(You’ll be getting both of them? Well, that is an admirable choice, if I may say so...)