April 17, 2012: Las Vegas to Flagstaff
Our morning is spent viewing Vegas from the top of the Stratosphere Tower (a perk of staying at the Stratosphere), followed by breakfast at Roxy’s Diner where they serve strawberries with pepper (surprisingly tasty).
We then hop into Dixie and happily cruise out of Sin City, towards the town of Flagstaff. I drive. It is my first drive in over a year and I am surprised at how good it feels to have my foot on the pedal and my hands on the wheel.
Music is played. L’s “Arizona Road Trip Mix #1,” which has been waiting for years for this moment, is finally set free and Life is a Highway sets the tone for the rest of the day, the week, the entire rock and rollin’ trip. During song #3 – Rod Stewart’s Forever Young – the combination of music, open road, friendship, and freedom hits me in the chest with a synergistic force that causes a burst of happiness to shoot up through my body and out my eyes, leaving tears in its wake.
May the good Lord be with you
Down every road you roam
And may sunshine and happiness
Surround you when you're far from home
And may you grow to be proud
Dignified and true
And do unto others
As you'd have done to you
Be courageous and be brave
And in my heart you'll always stay
Forever young, forever young
Hoover Dam is our first pit stop – that man-made concrete creation in Boulder City, Nevada (at the Arizona border). We park the car, admire the view, and though we know very little about the dam’s history, we are nonetheless able to appreciate its size and its beautiful setting.
After stretching our legs and looking up at the sky, letting our skin tingle under the hot rays of the afternoon sun, we continue on our way and soon roll onto Route 66, the “Mother Road,” immortalized by Steinbeck as the “Road to Opportunity.” There is something about this road, something un-nameable yet tangible and I feel it as soon as our wheels hit that well-worn asphalt which is bordered on each side by ever-changing scenes of red rock, desert shrubs, sun-bleached tufts of grass, and small bunny-like creatures scurrying away from our approaching vehicle. It feels like we are alone on this road (a lot of the time, we are), alone in the world, two adventurous souls leaving familiarity behind, searching for nothing and everything, knowing the road will lead where we need to go, literally and figuratively.
We stop at an all-in-one gas station/souvenir shop/diner – one of those old, rusted-up places full of relics (an autographed Beatles photo hangs on the wall) and untold stories of days gone by. My imagination thrusts me into this other world – I see tough-talking, beer-guzzling cowboys sitting in a booth, long-legged pretty girls in short skirts batting their eyelashes and whizzing around on roller-skates, Elvis crooning from the battered jukebox in the corner. I feel the history of this place, of this road, and I drink it up, drop by precious drop, as though I am sipping on the untainted heartblood of America.
We drive into Williams as the setting sun drapes the town in dreamy hues. We spend some time wandering up and down streets, breathing in the smell of BBQ, shopping for the best beef jerky, admiring the town’s oldest diner (complete with Cadillac and soda fountain), lost in the wild of the Wild West.
After some time, we get back in our car and drive to Flagstaff, our home for the next two nights. We settle into our quad at the Grand Canyon Hostel – a place filled with folks of all ages who have dirt on their hiking boots, sun on their cheeks, and wind in their hair. We are a world away from the glitz and superficiality of Las Vegas and am glad to notice that here, amongst the earthy Canyon-seekers, I feel very much at home.
After a late dinner and raspberry beer (for me) and red wine (for L) at a local brewery, we climb into our top bunks and whisper “goodnights” that carry within them all the wonder of the day. We have only been traveling for two days, but already we feel lighter, untethered from the routines of school and work and groceries and laundry, brimming with inspiration and bursting with joy.