Monday, February 21, 2011


Welcome to the fourth in a series about my travels across country with my friend Jan in her big rig.

The morning sun followed us westward towards the Arizona border. Colorful flat plains alongside the road were half covered by shadows of clouds making for a unique light pattern on the ground. Mountains and mesas in various shades and altitudes off in the distance promised a change in surroundings.

We couldn’t help but feel like we were in a movie. One half expected to see two Native Americans astride horses high on a mesa overlooking the desert floor watching Clark Griswold on his desperate trek to find a gas station.

The mesas themselves are incredibly beautiful testaments of the ancient earth on which we live. Horizontal lines across the elevation delineate the different eras of geologic time while the pinks and greens of the plateau give them depth and height.

The scenery gets more breathtaking as we go.
The winding blacktop on which we drive passes truck stops and an occasional casino that interrupt the majesty of nature that surrounds them.

Close to the Arizona border mesas line each side of the road as though in welcome to The Grand Canyon State. They cry, “This way to our own brand of nature’s beauty! Come and see what we have to offer!”

That afternoon a sign bearing the likeness of the blue, yellow, and red Arizona state flag welcomed us across its border as ancient, rocky mesas in tans, browns, and greens looked on.

Soon after the land flattened out quite a bit while clouds began to cover the desert sky. There were mesas and rocky hills off in the distance beyond the sandy ground and scrub bushes that came much closer to the highway. Off in the distance desert rain nourished the landscape.

This made for an awe-inspiring sight. While we enjoyed this view the road beneath was ascending towards a mountainous Flagstaff.

The rain reached that city as well. From a distance it was hard to see the mountains because of the cloud cover in addition to the rain.

Up at 7000 feet now, the mountains and hills of Flagstaff greeted us in wet hues of green and browns. Ground levels of various heights surround the area.

It is also a fork in the road where the driver has to choose between going northwest towards the Grand Canyon, continuing west en route to Los Angeles, or to turn south on I-17 in the direction of Phoenix. We turned south.

This is where the terrain of Arizona really becomes mountainous. Jan loves this drive and was disappointed that I couldn’t see all of the scenery because the precipitation covered a good portion of the view. But because it was new to my experience there was nothing to miss as far as I was concerned.

While driving up, down, and all around on wet pavement Jan explained to me how to drive a big rig in the rain, against gravity and with it, plus a heavy load. If it was me driving my knuckles would be white all the way. But Jan made it all look so easy.

She says she doesn’t mind it so much in the Southwest but likes to stay out of places like Washington, Oregon, and Idaho – especially during the winter. That is easy to understand.

The rain accompanied us almost to Phoenix.

Sorrell cactus lined both sides of the interstate waving their prickly branches in a happy welcome.
Both east and west of the highway mountains rose to soaring heights and sloped to various depths. The afternoon sun painted the desert mountains rich tints and shades of aqua, green, pink, red, orange, gold, ochre, and brown. It was a feast for the eyes straight from Heaven.
We enjoyed this view until the sun set for the night. But then it wasn’t long until we hit the Phoenix city limits.

There were businesses of all kinds on terraced hills above each side of the road as palm trees lined the edges. Spotlights invited customers to some of the ventures; neon adorned other establishments in their own efforts to attract patrons.

People were out and about on this busy night as we made our way to Swift’s national headquarters. Jan had the truck inspected before we dropped off the load we were delivering as required by Swift.

They had to check to see if the trailer needed any repairs and to have the tandems at forty feet to be legal to run in case we went to California.

Intense heat radiated from the ground and the air was sticky since it was monsoon season. There were two inspectors and several trucks. They couldn’t work fast enough for us.

Finally done, Jan maneuvered the big rig around the parking area and found a space for the trailer. She put down the landing gear, unhooked the air lines and the pigtail (electrical) then retrieved her lock from the doors.

Free of our excess burden we were on our way to the home of Jan’s brother Rob for the next two nights. Rob and I had not seen each other since I moved from Chicago in 1979. Our two year difference doesn’t seem like anything now, but back in the late ‘70’s he was Jan’s kid brother.

Now at 6’5” and mostly gray I would have recognized him anywhere. We had already been there for a while when he finally got home from his truck driving job.

Rob, Jan, and I had a great time talking about Dolton and the people we knew and who we still know. The three of us were lucky enough to have grown up in such a place and acknowledged it. We yapped until we couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer.

Each settled in for the night now, we couldn’t help but laugh as we did our own parody of The Walton’s. Instead of just, “Goodnight John-boy! Goodnight Mary Ellen! Goodnight Jim Bob!” We added, “Goodnight Jan! Goodnight Rob! Goodnight Claire! See you in the morning.”

Thanks so much for reading my post. Leave a comment so that I know you've stopped by.

For Claire Hickey, writing is a newly realized passion. For Claire Hickey, writing is a newly realized passion. For Claire Hickey, writing is a newly realized passion. Read more of Claire’s work at Feed The Mind, Nourish The Soul in the Communities at the Washington Times as well as her blog Sustenance For The Mind.


Ruby Johnson said...

Nice post Claire. Not sure I'd want to travel through mountains in a big rig!

Sara Thompson said...

I did a trek from San Antonio to Washington in November some years back and the terrain is so beautiful. You describe it with such beauty that it makes me want to go back and see it all again.

Claire said...

Thank you Sara for your kind words. They are greatly appreciated. I'd love to make the trip all the way to Washington too.
Ruby, it's not so bad if you're the passenger. You know what they say about ignorance being bliss.

Claire :)

Sandra Crowley said...

Great post, Claire. My husband and I made that drive last fall, so your paragraphs were almost a reliving of our trip. Of course we were in a car, not a big rig! I'd love to try that some day.

Thanks for sharing your experience.

Gwen Hernandez said...

Nice descriptions. I spent about half of my childhood in Tucson and still regularly visit my husband's family in Phoenix. The desert definitely has its own brand of beauty, and you captured it well.

There's just one thing from your post I couldn't ignore. The tall cacti are not sorrell. They're saguaro (pronounced suh-war-oh). A fun fact is that it takes about 75 years for them to get their first limb. At 20 years old, they're about the size of a footstool. =)

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